CAPE CORAL, Fla. — You want toilet paper with that steak?
That may sound like a weird offer but it speaks to the creativity local businesses are tapping into to keep their doors open.
The owner of Bubba's Roadhouse & Saloon on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral is now selling toilet paper along with the restaurant's famous steaks and margaritas named "Bubbaritas."
Owner Jay Johnson says they created a little "shop" inside the restaurant.
It's stocked with toilet paper, soda and other goods so customers could find what else they need when picking up their take-out orders from the restaurant at 2121 SW Pine Island Road (between Chiquita Boulevard and Burnt Store Road) in Cape Coral. (Bubba's started out with a location on Cape Coral Parkway nearly 27 years ago. But that one has since closed.)
Like a lot of businesses in Southwest Florida, Bubba's is used to relying on March as a month to make money for the leaner months ahead.
But business at Bubba's is down 80% over March of last year.
"What scares me the most is that this is the time of year we're supposed to put money away to get through the summer," says Jay.
The restrictions of not allowing people to dine in our sit at the bar have created a huge challenge for Bubba's.
They've adapted by offering more than just take-out of their prepared foods.
In addition to their dry goods shop, they're offering customers the option of taking home fresh raw cuts of beef and chicken from their in-house butcher shop.
"That way they can cook it up when and how they like it," says Jay.
"They can even freeze it."
And they're hoping fans of their "Bubbaritas" will be interested in adding them to their take-out orders (fresh limes are included.)
But even if their creative approach works for now, Jay says it's not going to be something that can pay the bills indefinitely.
"It's definitely not a sustainable business model," he says.
"We're in survival mode."
"We still have to pay the mortgage," he says.
"We still have to pay the electric then we have to pay our employees and we pay for food."
"There's not much left after that." Jay adds.
And, unfortunately, he's already in a position where's limited in how many employees can pay.
"I think one of the hardest things to do is lay off a lot of our staff - including one employee who was with us for almost 20 years," says Jay.
But he's also optimistic - pointing to how Southwest Floridians have rallied to get through past crises.
"We've been through a lot of hard times together," he says.
"We've been through hurricanes and, last year, red tide."
"And I know this community strong enough to get through this."
Jay, whose business has given to local organizations for years, says he's now receiving support from them.
"They're showing their support for me," he says.
"But I'd rather be the 'giver.'"
Some of those shows of support have really touched a lot of hearts.
He says one customer came in and bought a $100 gift card and then left a sizeable cash tip for every employee.
"That almost brought everyone to tears," he says.
One customer, named Frances Suthard, showed up to pick up a take-out order while we were visiting.
She says she's happy to support local businesses like Bubba's.
"If we don't support them, they're going to be gone," she says.
"It's a difficult time," says Jay.
"And if we come together as a group and get through this, we'll come out on the other side stronger together."
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