Some smaller restaurants choosing to stay closed during Phase 1

Posted at 7:39 AM, May 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-11 09:34:41-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla -- Rebounding to a new and safe normal looks different for every local business. Part of Fox 4’s commitment through its Rebound SWFL series is to follow those journeys, and offer information straight from state leaders that will help you make important decisions.

Jessica Alpern spoke with some of Southwest Florida's smaller local restaurants who are choosing to stay closed during the phase 1 reopening of Florida.

Operating at 25% capacity under phase 1 would mean Artisan Eatery in Fort Myers, for example, which is a 36-seat restaurant, could only serve nine customers at a time.

"Trying to gauge what business is going to be like, how much traffic we're going to get in here, to open it up and have staff for 9 people just wasn't practical," said Chef and Owner Tim Yoa.

Instead, Yoa said the restaurant will keep its doors closed likely until phase 2.

Wednesday, the restaurant opened up for takeout for the first time during the pandemic. Despite other restaurants offering this option throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Yoa felt it was important to take that time to re-evaluate how they operate and put a number of safety features and policies in place. That included installing a plexiglass barrier around its previously open-kitchen concept, supplying and requiring employees to wear PPE, and providing sanitizer pumps throughout the restaurant.

But all of this has come at a cost: nearly two months of no business up until this point.

And when it comes to reopening its doors to diners, Yoa explained that there's a magic number he's looking for. So Fox 4 looked into how much of a jump phase 2 will likely be for restaurants like Artisan.

According to initial guidelines for Florida's Recovery compiled by the Reopen Florida Task Force, phase 2 could mean a jump from 25% to 75% capacity.

For Artisan Eatery, that could mean going from serving just nine customers at a time, to 27. Yoa said even 50% capacity would make it feasible for him to reopen.

“Maybe open it up to 50% with six-foot distancing between guests. I think that would be a reasonable starting point to start letting guests sit back down,” he said.

But of course, the question remaining for restaurant owners like Yoa, is when phase 2 might begin.

You may recall, Fox 4 was the only local station to speak one-on-one with both a member of the Reopen Florida Task Force Executive Committee and Commissioner Hamman, who served on one of the force's working groups. These were people who helped shape the guidelines to reopen the state. Fox 4 is working to get in touch with both, to see what sort of timeline they might be able to share regarding phase 2.

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