Dining industry hit hard by new restrictions

by Tallahassee Table

Tallahassee’s fine dining and upscale restaurants will offer takeout along with their casual cousins after the governor on Friday ordered all restaurants to stop their dine-in service and allow takeout and delivery only.

While restaurants are crushed by the news, this is just the latest setback and not unexpected given the restrictions all over the country.

Photo: OverUnder

Earlier this week, Florida bars were ordered to close and restaurants told to cut their capacity in half and allow for social distancing. Most were already assuring customers of their extreme sanitation efforts.

For restaurant owners, not only are their life’s ambitions halted for now but their businesses and economic livelihood are threatened as well. These shutdowns also mean throngs of hospitality employees are suddenly out of work.

Photo: Lucilla

“We had our dining room open but we were feeding almost no one,” said Joe Richardson, co-owner of Lafayette Street’s Lucilla’s with Lara Hooper. Lucilla is her middle name.

With this change, Richardson said “I had to layoff the entire staff. We have absolutely the best staff. They’re like friends or family.”

But Richardson noted that Lucilla is “a small, new restaurant and we don’t have a stockpile of money. We were barely hanging on.”

Lucilla will continue to offer takeout and curbside service this weekend from 5 to 8 p.m., he said, and he hopes to continue next week if the response is good.

“This is devastating for us,” said Richardson. “It’s happening to a lot of people but it doesn’t make it less heartbreaking.”

Yet Richardson said he and Lara don’t want to give up hopes of reopening when the coronavirus crisis is eventually over.

“This is our lifelong dream,” he said. “I named it after the girl I’m in love with and I do not want to abandon it.”

Photo: Cabo’s

Mike Ferrara has been a co-owner of laid-back Cabo’s Island Grill and Bar for 33 years and was still reeling from the news of the restaurant restrictions on Friday evening.

“I’ve been trying to keep people who have been with me for more than 20 years,” Ferrara said of his staff.

“It’s been really tough,” he said. “I feel like I’ve gone 16 rounds with Muhammad Ali.”

Ferrara said he was offering takeout tonight, offering a lot of specials, and tomorrow night.

“We’ll try it and see how it goes,” he said. “It’s just really frustrating.”

Many restaurants are in a wait-and-see mode.

Mimi’s Table had been filling its tables before the coronavirus crisis exploded and the rules changed.

William Lawson, executive chef and owner of Mimi's Table.
Photo: William Lawson, executive chef and owner of Mimi’s Table / Tallahassee Democrat

William Lawson, who opened Mimi’s Table Tallahassee in Old Town in 2018, had been offering dine-in service this week on a more limited basis to comply with regulations as well as takeout, curbside service and delivery.

“We were hoping it wouldn’t happen for a couple more weeks,” he said of the new restrictions. 

Lawson is now offering takeout from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. “People can order and pay through our website.”

Aside from the regular menu, he’ll offer family meals to go like tonight’s spinach mushroom lasagna with Caesar salad, fresh baked bread and tiramisu available curbside or delivery.

“We’re just trying to keep a positive attitude and see what tomorrow brings,” said Lawson. “That’s all we can do.”

Photo: Au Peche Mignon

Joseph Gans, co-owner of Au Péché Mignon French Pastry Shop with his wife Lisa, said “All of this is detrimental to small, local businesses. It’s a global pandemic, not anything anyone can plan for.”

Gans said Au Peche will offer a smaller menu but keep treats like quiche, croissants and other favorites, but he urges customers to call first to order.

At Backwoods Crossing, which is always packed, things had begun to look grim this week, said chef/co-owner Jesse Rice,

“We were thinking of closing anyway because no one is going out to eat,” said Rice, who owns the farm-to-table restaurant with his brother Tyler.

“We’ll do takeout tonight and tomorrow and base it on that,” said Rice. “Things are really rough and weird right now but I think we’ll make it.”

Backwoods Crossing owners, brothers Tyler and chef Jesse Rice, are hosting a chef’s dinner in August. Photo: Backwoods Crossing

Rice said he’ll be offering takeout on Saturday, participating in an event called Rally for Tally, organized by Matt Thompson (Madison Social), Brad Buckenheimer (Canopy Road Cafe) and the Tallahassee Foodies blog.

“The goal is simple — get people to order and pick up their food through curb side pick up. Residents are encouraged to call ahead or visit a restaurant’s online ordering, if available,” according to the blog.

The restaurants will add a little something extra during the event.

Rice, also co-owner of Backwoods Bistro, said he would offer a free piece of bread pudding plus a $10 gift card for use after Oct. 1 with any to go order of $40 or more.

Backwoods Crossing will also have a farmers market from 11 a.m.-4.p.m. March 21 featuring collards, kale, beets, carrots, watermelon radishes, sorrel, shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, hot sauce, jellies.

Photo: Jeri’s Midtown Cafe

Other restaurants joining the event so far are: Riccardo’s Restaurant, Canopy Road Cafe, Madison Social, Jeri’s Midtown Cafe, Gordos Northside and Gordo’s on Pensacola Street, Habanas Boardwalk, Bumpa’s Local #349, Proper, Railroad Square Craft House, Casa Grande Bar & Grill Mexican Restaurant, Lucy & Leo’s, Ology Brewing Company, Jmo’s SneauxBall Catering Co., Break Fast Buffet, Nuberri not just Frozen Yogurt, Krispy Krunchy Chicken, Georgio’s Fine Food & Spirits, Decent Pizza, Smallcakes Tallahassee- Killearn, Smallcakes Tallahassee- Apalachee Parkway, Reangthai, Little Italy Tallahassee, Gurdeep-Deep Kang, Ology Brewing Company, Proof Brewing Company, Los Compadres Express, Sage: A Restaurant Red Elephant Pizza and Grill, Wharf Casual Seafood, Burrito Boarder, Florida Juice Company, Little Masa, Brooklyn pizza, Essence of India and Midtown Caboose.

“What’s so sad is that the new landscape after this is over could be dominated by corporate restaurants,” said Lucilla’s Richardson, who worries about the continuation of “charming, idiosyncratic restaurants. “We’re going to do everything we can to come back after this.”

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