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Island eateries: Still open for business

By Staff | Apr 7, 2020

As businesses strive to remain operational during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva are using options like take-out and delivery as a way to keep their doors open.

While the virus situation – and government response to it – continues to be a fluid one, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is maintaining an online list of venues “open for take-out.” Eateries have updated Websites and social media pages; make-shift signs have popped up along roads.

The message is the same: “Open for take-out/pick up. Delivery available. We are open!”

Jeff Samson, whose family owns and operates Malia Island Fusion Cuisine and Spoondrift Island Bowls – two Sanibel venues – made a comparison to the economic impact of red tide a few years ago.

“It’s certainly tough. It’s been difficult for every business,” he said of the effects of COVID-19. “But our local customers are wonderful. I can’t thank them enough for coming by and supporting us.”

For the Samsons, the family has temporarily shut down Malia.

“Because of what’s going on. We didn’t want people to have to walk through a dark restaurant,” Samson said, referring to potential customers picking up food and the layout of the building.

But, Spoondrift is up and running – and even features some dishes from its sister venue.

“We’re doing two Malia entrees every day here,” he said, adding that they are serving a couple of chilled soups and desserts, too. “Like our award-winning, island-famous coconut tres leches.”

Along with the handful of Malia items, Spoondrift’s full menu is available for take-out.

“We can bring it to your car if you’re not comfortable walking in,” Samson said.

Like others, they have also teamed up with Sanibel Delivery to serve those sheltering in place.

Fortunately for Executive Chef Melissa Donahue, owner of Sweet Melissa’s Cafe on Sanibel, she already had an existing delivery service she could tap at her next-door eatery, Island Pizza Company.

“We’re doing take-out. Curbside is an option,” she said of the cafe.

“And we’re using our (Island Pizza) drivers to deliver,” Donahue added.

At the pizzeria, the full menu is available, though some items may not be on some days.

“Like last week, we ran out of wings because we could only get trucks on certain days,” she said.

As for Sweet Melissa’s, the menu has been streamlined to feature customer favorites and best-sellers, like gumbo, fish stew, grilled romaine, shrimp and grits, cheesecake, short ribs and bread pudding.

“We sort of pared it down to what we call ‘Sweet Melissa’s Greatest Hits,'” Donahue said.

Ingredients may also be swapped out on a well-known dish for what is available locally in order to help other local businesses like herself, such as perhaps using a different species of fish from fishermen.

“And we have been trying to run some specials,” she said.

Recently, the cafe started offering a Friday night family-style special. Donahue explained that last week’s special centered around lobster for the meal, and an Easter dinner is planned this week.

“People have been great,” she said, explaining that customers have been buying gift certificates and have been extraordinarily generous with their gratuity for her staff when picking up their orders.

“And they are thankful that we are still open and serving Sweet Melissa’s food,” Donahue added.

Sanibel Deli & Coffee Factory owner Jeff Weigel reported that minus the exception of having to eliminate dine-in eating, his restaurant has not had to change much in response to COVID-19.

“Same days and hours,” he said. “Same menu as always. Nothing has changed.”

Weigel pointed to the original business model as the reason behind it. When he opened the deli over a decade ago, there was no seating available, so he built the menu around items made for carry-out.

“The food we came up with was meant to travel well,” Weigel said.

The deli continues to offer a breakfast menu, plus sandwiches, pizzas, wings, soups and more.

“If they want curbside service, we’ve been doing that,” he said, adding that his eatery has been doing some deliveries when staff is able to do so. “We’re trying to accommodate as many as we can.”

For Weigel, one recent observation is a venue’s sanitation is now just as important as its food.

“I’ve noticed people are, obviously, very mindful of their health right now,” he said. “I’ve noticed our cleanliness reputation that we’ve had for such a long time is really a factor right now.”

On Captiva, restaurants are also working to get the message out that they are open for business.

Sandy Stilwell, owner of several eateries on the north island, explained that her Keylime Bistro is the only one open and serving at the moment. It offers take-out, but it is encouraging curbside pick-up.

“They can call ahead and order, and we’ll take it right out to them,” she said, pointing to social distancing recommendations. “We’re trying to not have people standing around waiting for things.”

Open seven days a week, the bistro is offering a lunch menu, followed by lunch and dinner menus.

“We’ve only trimmed a few items,” Stilwell said, citing escargot as one dish.

“All of our salads are available, grouper sandwiches. Just about everything on the menu we are currently offering,” she added. “We’ll always have our key lime pie. And ask about our fish specials.”

For customers ordering for four or more, buffet-style containers are available upon request.

“We’d be more than happy to put it in a family-style container,” Stilwell said. “Something they could heat up later in the oven.”

The Keylime Bistro, which possesses a liquor license, is also one venue selling alcohol to-go as permitted by the state during this current crisis. However, it is not selling “open containers.”

“We got creative,” she said. “We ended up getting cocktail drinks in bottles and cans.”

Stilwell added that customers can purchase a bottle of wine to go.

Asked about the business side of things, she also voiced gratitude for local support.

“The community has been there; they’ve ordered a lot. The locals right here,” Stilwell said. “It’s been helping me to help my employees, I’m keeping everybody working, and that’s the bigger picture.”

For the chamber’s list, visit sanibel-captiva.org/sanibel-captiva-island-chamber-of-commerce.

For specific menus or daily updates, visit a venue’s Website or social media pages.