If you run a Florida retail business or restaurant, Monday will truly be the first day of the rest of your life.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Phase I of the plan to re-open Florida’s economy begins with allowing restaurants, which have only been allowed to serve take-out and delivery orders, to serve on-site again, either from outdoor tables spread six feet apart, or inside at 25 percent of capacity with social distancing measures in place. Retail outlets can also re-open at 25 percent capacity.
Places like Big John’s Rockin’ BBQ and Matador Tacos and Tapas Bar in Kissimmee and Cobblestone Courtyard in St. Cloud were successful in what they do — serving great food with a smile and the best of ambiance — until the coronavirus threw their successful plans into flux.
The three have much in common. They are merchants deeply rooted in the community, and they’ve never had to resort to doing what must be done now to remain in business — keep most of the seating areas empty, resort to paper menus and limited offerings, and cut back on staff. The “new normal” is going to take a while to be normal.
“We’re asking for patience as we transition,” said Cobblestone’s Angie Redman. “We’re understaffed, we’re trying our best. This is beyond anything we’ve ever done, it’s a whole new era.”
And, it’s essential, because communities rely on these eateries. In these stressed times, they’re even ordering from each other, just to keep one and all propped up.
The first few days of the week will be the stress test. The 25 percent capacity includes staff, so that mandate will be interested, and maybe difficult. John Glover, a.k.a. “Big John”, said he can have 12 diners in at a time.
“If we all had drive-through window, we’d all be set,” he said, noting Big John’s has been doing Grubhub and Doordash for delivery, curbside pickup and to-go orders and small catering jobs. He won’t open for breakfast until Thursday, since it’s hard to find eggs and breakfast food in large orders right now.
“I gave mine away to employees and friends since I couldn’t use it,” he said. “It’s tough to do outside seating, especially in the morning because my curb gets all the morning sun.”
Redmond won’t open the Cobblestone dining room Monday. “We’ll wait and see how this goes. At 25 percent, with staff, it’s about 20 people can be seated at one time,” she said. Cobblestone will continue to offer take out and delivery, and they’ll go all the way to Kenansville.
“Yep, we make a couple runs down there a week,” she said. “Gives us time to think about what our next moves are.”
Jackie Espinosa said Kissimmee Diner and Matador closed March 21 and didn’t move to to-go or delivery. They kept only non-perishables and also won’t do breakfast in the month of May. They’ll run a limited menu with everything packaged to go.
“Without the police station and courthouse still closed, we lose that business; we get a lot of jurors,” she said. “People are driving through downtown Kissimmee and not stopping.”
And things will change going forward. Espinosa had plexiglass installed at the ordering counter, just one measure of the new paranoia.
“We’re more aware of everything that goes on around us. If staff is sick, they just don’t come,” she said. “We’re wiping down everything twice out of being paranoid, because we’ve heard there will be a second rise in this. We’re getting innovative.”
“Patrons very conscious of what surfaces they touch, the door handles, the POS terminal,” Glover said.
But he also noted “We should be fine,” and Redmond said some changes are positive.
“We’re now about thinking of one another and checking on one your neighbor. The businesses have rallied for one another.”