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Open for business: Cape companies cope with pandemic parameters

By Staff | Apr 16, 2020

Although some businesses are struggling with rules imposed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, many are offering services with either free, reduced, or new options to help their neighbors.

Cape Cabaret owner Joel Notes said they closed on St. Patrick’s Day due to the virus, but decided to open the day after with new services — a lunch menu and grocery items.

“In light of all the things that are going on and the problems, I think we are very blessed. We have almost the entire staff back. We have most of our staff working at least part-time, some full-time. We are working on it,” he said of his 22 employees.

When Cape Cabaret temporarily closed, Notes said his chef called the next day and gave him some great ideas on how to reopen and still comply with a state executive order that does not allow dine-in.

“The next day we mobilized our people and started serving and putting all the products together. Most of our people have been able to work part-time since the (statewide business) shutdown,” he said.

Every day, Cape Cabaret posts its lunch and dinner menu, as well as grocery items, on its Facebook page, as well as its website.

“We post it on Facebook every morning and send out emails for those who sign up for our email list, which is about 6,000 (emails.) We update our website every day,” he said, adding supplies change and they come up with new products.

For example, some of the grocery items offered range from hard-to-find household items such as toilet paper, paper towels, gloves and bleach. The grocery items, earlier this week, also included such items as eggs, yogurt, milk, butter, bagels, chicken, ground beef, sliced deli meats and cheeses, pastas and produce.

“We have it here in stock,” he said of the items.

It’s easy to use the service. All an individual has to do is call (239) 549-3000, and place their order between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Once the order is placed, it can be picked it up in the Big John Shopping Center on 47th Terrace S.E. between 15th Avenue and Vincennes Blvd. Cape Cabaret staff can bring the items to the shopper’s vehicle.

They began offering lunch this week, in addition to dinner, which began a few weeks back.

“People call and give us an order and tell us what time they will be here. We will have it ready for them,” Notes said, adding that it will be made to order for a fresh and hot meal. “It’s a service to the community because our prices are much less than the restaurant prices. We are selling at a fraction of the price we normally would. That is a good thing for the public and a good thing for our employees. These folks need to have a paycheck.”

A credit card will be given over the phone, so there is no contact with staff. Notes said once they arrive, the customer will honk their horn and staff will walk the meal or meals out and put the food in the backseat, or the trunk.

All of his employees have gloves, and switch gloves once they go from handling one food product to another. The employees also wash hands constantly, he said.

Notes said the services have been popular.

“We have almost our entire staff back to work, which is amazing. We were shut down and had nobody working and now our kitchen staff is almost full-time. Our wait staff is half-time. We alternate people seven days a week,” he said. “Everybody is getting hours and a job, thankfully so, because the ability to get into unemployment is limited because the computers are crashing.”

Next week, they are going to add another service, delivery. Again, the customer will be charged over the phone, so the food can be left at the door with no personal contact.

“We are going to keep this up for as long as we have to. I think some good things are coming out of this. I think when we reopen we will continue the lunch business,” Notes said. “We are all in this together and together we will get through it. The moral of the story is we are not alone. We are all going through this and it is worldwide. We do have to hang together and help each other and by doing so we will all get through it. No matter what happens, there is always something that does come from it, you just have to make that happen.”

Mel’s Diner, a locally based chain, is another business that is doing all it can to help the community in an every day changing restaurant business.

“We are doing well. We are doing everything we can to assist our customers, who have been loyal to us, with their needs,” Catering Director Bill Malstrom said.

The restaurant is offering pre-order meals, as well as offering groceries for their customers. The pre-order meals includes two for $20 deals — seven choices, which is a dropped price. Other offerings include barbecue ribs for two people and an 8-ounce rib for two people for $25. The restaurant also is offering weekly family meals for four with such favorites as chicken parmesan and pasta dishes.

Those interested in using the service call ahead, 239-242-0218, pay over the phone, with free curbside pickup at 1331 Pine Island Road N.E., or delivery, five miles from Mel’s, for lunch and dinner.

Malstrom said they are also selling staple items, groceries, to the public. Those includes such items as burgers, chicken, pork, steaks, bread, eggs, juices, liquor, toiletries, sanitizer and paper towels.

“We try to make it convenient for them. They call on Thursday through Sunday for Monday pickup, or call Tuesday and Wednesday for Thursday pickup,” he said, adding that they have had probably 30 people use the grocery service every time they do it. “We want to help our community and make it safe for them.”

As far as employees, Malstrom said they kept people on on a volunteer basis .

“Our goal is to keep our employees and customers safe,” he said.

In addition, Malstrom said they further helped the community by feeding doctors, nurses and staff members of the Golisano Children’s Hospital. On Monday, he said they provided 200 people with a meal and donated 4,000 gloves.

He said they wanted to offer a helping hand because some doctors and nurses are choosing not to go home by quarantining themselves, and staying at hotels, eating mostly hospital food.

“They are the heroes out there,” Malstrom said. “We get to do our part in the community. We are here for our community.”

Big 10 Tavern co-owner Jason Bhimji said since COVID-19 changed the way of business, the community has really supported them. He said since day one of opening, Big 10 Tavern he has really been a part of the community and that effort has been returned.

Big 10 Tavern co-owner Jeremiah Kuslock agreed that business has been really good for them in a time when they do not have customers there. Big 10 Tavern offers curbside pickup and delivery. He said their sales have probably been cut by half, but they are still doing out-of-season numbers.

“Overall it’s good to see the clients come back in,” he said while picking up their to go order. “The five minutes of interaction is great after being stuck in the house for so long. It’s negative, but it has been positive at the same time.”

Kuslock said they have also gone out and supported the community by feeding frontline workers, such as people who work in the hospitals, fire and police stations.

To help promote the business, Bhimji is using Facebook live, Instagram and other sources of media, such as Text Platform, which reaches 5,000 people with a click of a button.

“We are running out of food every day. We are trying to make sure our staff makes money. We are trying to make sure to stay out of pocket to pay bills,” he said, adding they are trying to do as much volume as possible.

That volume is being made with such deals as a double cocktail, a burger and a side for $10.

“It’s not the time to make money, but the time to come together as a community,” Bhimji said. “Everyone knows that is one thing we pride ourselves on, we love to help out the community as much as we can.”

Big 10 Tavern, at 4730 SW 16th Place, also is promoting its V.I.P. Club, which enables customers to receive free stuff, such as a free burger and brew on their birthday, as well as special member- only bonuses throughout the year. Those interested in joining can text Jason to (239) 217-9010. The restaurant phone number is 239-257-1081.

It is also important for the owners to help their staff.

Bhimji said he started working with BRAT Screen Printing & Embroidery for a promotion, Southwest Florida Here For Good T-Shirts. He said the company takes $10 out of the $20 T-Shirt sale and gives it to the individual company to pay their bartenders and staff.

“Our goal is to sell 2,000 shirts to have $20,000 to give to our staff to divide that. We have sold about 100 in the first hour,” Bhimji said Wednesday.

Kuslock said they have about 75 percent of their staff working. He said the other 25 percent chose to take time off.

“Everyone that wanted to work is able to work. We haven’t let anybody go and we continue to try to pay each of our employees whether they are working or not,” he said. “We have a great staff. Customer and clientele is amazing to us.”

Information, and how to purchase the T-Shirts can be found on the Big 10 Tavern Facebook page.

Restaurants are not the only essential businesses shifting gears to comply with state “social distancing” mandates.

Cape Cleaners owner Dan Puleio said his business is open, operating with staff with reduced hours in an effort to continue to give back to the community.

Instead of operating from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the Cape Cleaners main location, 810 Cape Coral Parkway E., is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday instead of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We cut our plant operations down to two days a week,” Puleio said. “We are there and working. We are trying to give back to the community that always supported us.”

The other location, at 30 Hancock Bridge Parkway, due to it being a hybrid store that has lockers where individuals can pick up and drop off, the counter, which is normally open during the day, is not attended, Puleio said.

During this time, they are still offering their free pickup and delivery service.

Wednesday afternoon, another special was added to the services Cape Cleaners will provide during this time. He said if an individual is not working and their business is closed, he will give them $15 a week in free laundry and dry cleaning services.

“I had to do something. We always do a deep discount for policemen, firemen and Lee Health employees. Fifteen dollars a week is something. I’m sure if you are sitting at home and not working you are probably doing your own laundry,” he said, laughing. “I hope we can help some people with it. It’s about giving back. It’s a two-way give and take. It’s a win-win.”

He said the community has supported the business for more than 50 years.

“I have owned Cape Cleaners for seven. I am 68 years old and it has been the best seven years of my life,” he said. “I came in and didn’t know the business and was looking to semi-retire, but was so enthused about it. Customers are the most important thing.”

Paesano’s Italian Market owner Jerry Furio said business has been slow because they do not carry such items as toilet paper and alcohol.

With that said, they are surviving – paying the bills and payroll.

The market still carries a vast variety, including meats, although there have been price adjustments by the distributor as manufacturers close down because of the coronavirus. Furio said because of the demand, prices are tipping up.

“Every day something is going up,” he said. “I’m keeping up as best as I can. The store (stock) is full. People are not coming out like they used to.”

An essential business, Paesano’s Italian Market is keeping the doors open for the customers, and their employees.

“I don’t want to mess up anybody’s life. If they go and file for unemployment they are going to have a hard time and not get the money on time. They are going to suffer,” Furio said of their staffers. “We are open for the employees and customers. There is no profit because there is not enough customers walking in.”

Furio said it is very tough times and very hard for a business to pay their cost of operation and their employees.

“I hope this virus goes away,” he said, adding that he will take advantage of the government loan for businesses. “I will take advantage of that to keep the store alive.”

On Thursday, Paesano’s two statues in front of the store at 826 Lafaytte St., were to be sporting bandanas as masks to help spread the message to stay safe.

“We are wearing masks. The statue outside is wearing a mask. All of the employees are wearing masks and gloves,” he said.

The market is still open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Furio said he is having his employees come in an hour early to disinfect the counters, shelves and shopping carts.

“Every day they get sanitized,” he said.

The market continues to offer premade meals, which are easily popped into the microwave, or oven, for a convenient made-from-scratch meal.

Merrick Seafood Company and Fish Tale Grill owner Kerry Kerig agreed it’s a difficult time for businesses.

“I think our industry has been hit the hardest,” she said.

With that said, the market is staying busy because it is a grocery store with a full selection of seafood that can be taken home and prepared.

“The market is thankfully keeping busy with customers coming to get their fresh fish and salads,” Kerig said, adding that the market is open during its regular hours, with the exception of being closed on Monday.

She said the market’s “you bake dinners” includes such favorites as pecan grouper, crab stuffed grouper, bacon wrapped scallops and ginger teriyaki tuna.

There is also a pre-order barbecue pack, which includes chicken, shrimp, burgers, potatoes and coleslaw.

“We are also adapting to the need of people stuck at home right now,” she said.

Merrick’s also has daily specials, Kerig said, which includes $5 dollar Thursday.

The restaurant next door, Fish Tale Grille is trying to survive on takeout alone, she said.

The dinner specials are served from 3 to 8 p.m. with a different menu item Wednesday through Sunday ranging from a lobster bake to seafood pot pie.

This week they are participating in Big Storm Brewery event by providing Sunday Brunch To Go from 9 a.m. to noon. There are five brunch items available, waffles to lobster brie omelets. There is also a child’s option with bacon, pancakes and fruit.

Kerig said as far as employees, with a good percentage of them being restaurant staff, they are working shifts for takeout. Each server is responsible for a shift of takeout, which is allowing them to earn some money.

“They have all been really good. We are trying to go day-by-day and hope to re-open (to dine-in) soon,” Kerig said. “We are trying to do our best, one day at a time.”

Merrick Seafood Company, and Fish Tale Grill is next door, is at 1229 S.E. 47th Terrace. Call Fish Tale at 239-257-3167 or Merrick Seafood at 239-542-8080.