JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Florida restaurants and bars are struggling to attract customers as fears about a rise in coronavirus cases continues.
That’s especially the case in Jacksonville Beach, where more than a dozen businesses voluntarily closed after learning employees or customers tested positive for COVID-19. Others closed temporarily out of precaution.
On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will be checking up on the establishments to make sure they’re safe.
“You got to do what you gotta do as a business owner to stay safe, keep your employees safe and working,” said Bobby Brown, who ordered to-go from TacoLu, a popular Mexican restaurant in Jacksonville Beach.
He said he understands businesses need support during these trying times.
“Save for hurricanes, it’s the longest we’ve been closed in 12 years, in the history of TacoLu” said Don Nicol, owner of the popular taco and tequila restaurant and bar.
Nicol made the call to close June 16 after learning an employee tested positive. A week later, he said four more had the virus, but they had not been in the restaurant since taking their tests. He said the rest of the staff were negative or still waiting for results.
A week later, he returned to serving customers through carryout orders.
“When you go from almost normal business to zero, it’s a big difference,” Nicol said. “Morale is really tough. It really is our first real taste of a quarantine because we’ve been open this whole time.”
It’s been a roller coaster of a year for so many in the service industry, including people like Fernando Meza, general manager at The Wreck Tiki Bar and The Tavern on First. These businesses had been closed for eight weeks due to COVID-19, opened again and then closed last week for cleaning after two employees tested positive for the virus.
“Every place here at the beach is taking another blow and I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future,” said Meza.
After a deep clean and employee testing, these two beachfront bars reopened over the weekend, but saw a huge decline in customers and revenue, as did their neighbor restaurants and pubs.
“There are wonderful people that work in these locations,” Meza noted. “We’d hate to see them out of a job again.”
Meza said responsibility is key: staff working to keep the premises clean and making sure customers keep their distance to cut down on the risk for spreading the virus.
He’s undecided about the protocol surrounding the decision to reopen businesses in the state.
“There’s not a right or wrong answer,” he said. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
“The things that are the most effective are doing the basic hygiene, practicing the basic social distancing, if you can social distance, you know, having the mask cut down on transmission,” DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Orlando. “Those are all very easy things to do that will make a huge, huge difference.”
Desantis acknowledged an uptick in cases, especially among people ages 25 to 34.
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears, who joined DeSantis at the news conference, also announced his department will send officers to check up on restaurants and bars between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. to make sure they’re following coronavirus guidelines. The state agency already pulled the license of a popular pub in Orlando, the Knight’s Pub, after dozens of employees and customers tested positive for COVID-19. State leaders said they are willing to pull licenses of other violators. Bars and restaurants must keep capacity to 50% or less.
Meza said most businesses are acting responsibly as they navigate uncharted territory. He’s asking the community to support them as much as possible.
“I’m brainstorming something to help the beach bars in the restaurants in the boutique shops and all the businesses here in general that I have taken a hit since all this started,” Meza added.
He said it’s important to note the businesses are safe to visit as long as everyone is responsible and does the right thing.