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Back in business: Cape restaurants, retail shops reopen

By Staff | May 7, 2020

Restaurants and retailers across the state of Florida have been allowed to reopen to the public in a marginalized fashion beginning Monday, giving Floridians a chance to get out of their house and sit down to a nice meal or do some shopping, if they feel safe doing so.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order, or “Phase 1: Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” plan for Florida’s recovery amidst COVID-19, went into effect Monday. This order allows retail and restaurants to open at 25 percent occupancy with eateries also allowed outside dining as social distancing allows.

This new order does not extend to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, which have had the highest numbers of coronavirus patients in the state.

Cape Coral restaurants were shaking off the rust, getting employees back to work and once again were able to serve the public onsite, all while taking precautions for potential virus transmission utilizing social distancing and extreme sanitary standards.

Despite mixed public opinion on whether the reopening is occurring too soon, the local businesses and their employees impacted by the closures will benefit from a much-needed economic jolt to the arm.

FINS Seafood & Dive Bar on Del Prado welcomed back familiar faces with open arms Monday and has been serving in their dining room at 25 percent capacity, as well as offering outdoor seating.

“Monday night was a good night here,” said Jamie Adams, one of the managers at FINS. “We’re glad to be back open and we want to let the community know we’re good to go here when it comes to sanitation.”

All employees at FINS are required to wear a mask. Adams said they have received a lot of positive feedback about how customers appreciate their safety being looked after.

“It feels great,” Adams said of getting back to work. “It was a long few weeks in here by myself.”

FINS set up sanitizing stations throughout the establishment and every time a new table comes in, it is wiped down along with all of the condiments that are in a basket on the table when you are seated.

They also just released a new menu with some new items, and are offering a beverage happy hour daily.

As the week did progress, things did start to slow a tad, said Adams, though they were operating at a “steady” pace all week.

Fish Tale Grill by Merrick Seafood had a good Monday.

“Yesterday was a tremendous success,” said Pat Krieg, owner of Cape Coral’s Fish Tale Grill by Merrick Seafood. “It was an opportunity for us to bring back a bunch of our employees and the locals came out and supported us as much as we could seat them, which was great.”

Fish Tale Grill on Southeast 47th Terrace was back to serving up its fresh seafood dishes to patrons inside and outside on the restaurant’s two large decks.

“The customers were just thrilled to be back out of the house, it felt like,” Krieg said. “From the time we opened to the time we closed, it was heartwarming excitement to say the least.”

Inside, Krieg said the restaurant can hold about 25 people maximum, and roughly 60 between the two decks depending on party size and being able to maintain social distancing standards.

He said the restaurant is doing all it can to ensure the safety of its employees who are screened for symptoms every day when they come in and the customers.

“We’re taking extreme measures when it comes to sanitizing,” Krieg said. “Educational training for the staff constantly wiping down the laminated lunch menus, hand sanitizing stations everywhere. The customers are adhering to our recommendations. We’re wiping down everything as much as possible. It seems to be well received by the customers.”

Employees are not required to wear masks — it is their choice, said Krieg, who is happy to be able to return people he considers “family” back to work.

“They were thrilled to get back to work,” he said. “They’re family to us, so it was great having them back,”

The governor’s order will also help ease the economic strain the virus has caused by generating more income for a business that has — as nearly every business across America has — taken a hit from the pandemic.

“Every little bit helps,” Krieg said. “For those restaurants that aren’t fortunate enough to have outdoor spaces, it’s kind of a difficult percentage. Hopefully the numbers stay down and the governor will deem (Phase 2) appropriate sooner rather than later.”

Another Cape Coral establishment, Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery, once again was allowed to let patrons through its doors to sit and dine.

“It was a pretty smooth ride yesterday for the most part,” said owner Shannon Yates on Tuesday.

He said his take-out service was still just as busy as it was before, hinting that maybe people are taking things a little slow before rushing out of their homes all at once.

Nevermind marked off certain tables that patrons couldn’t use by having the chairs turned over on them. Hostesses assigned guests to tables while keeping social distancing among parties.

Yates is making sure those who come in before 9 p.m. really want to be there to dine if they are to be inside.

“During the main time, (the dining room) is there for people who actually want to sit down and eat not drink,” he said.

Staff at Nevermind is being thoroughly educated on safe practices to keep patrons in as cleanly an environment as possible.

“It starts with the staff and it ends with the staff,” Yates said. “They’ve got to be effective; very clean around the tables, especially when guests are seated, washing their hands 50 times a day, or more.”

It is up to Nevermind employees if they wish to wear a mask, or not, said Yates.

The facility is divided into three different “bars.” Yates said there were no more than 14 people in one location at one time.

“It was kind of nice. I don’t want people to be jammed in here right now, at all.” Yates said. “The patios were pretty full.”

Nevermind put two tents outside, per state allowance, and tented the parking lot for “social overflow.”

Yates was happy to welcome back employees who were not able to work and said he will be looking to hire about 10 new employees this week.

While it helps to be able to have the public walk through the doors again, the effects of the coronavirus on businesses are hard. Nevermind is still waiting for its government relief as well.

Chicago Pizza in Cape Coral opened its doors Monday to the public, once again serving its four-year-running “Best of Cape Coral” deep dish style pie for onsite dining.

Owner Marianne Green said it’s great to once again get back to business, but still feels the public may be being cautions when it comes to eating out.

“I think it’s been slower than I thought. I thought people would be more anxious to get out because of all the people coming in to get pickups saying how they couldn’t wait until everything was open,” she said. “I think people are being a little bit cautious right now.”

Green said they have been right around that 25 percent mark give or take each day this week depending on party size.

“It’s fluctuating day by day,” she said.

Their pickup service — which restaurants were allowed throughout the statewide closure along with curbside carryout and delivery — has dipped a tad as well, Green said.

With places now beginning to open, she thinks residents are “making their rounds” to visit their old favorite spots.

Chicago Pizza is practicing social distancing inside with their seating, as well as making sure every surface is sanitized, something Green said they have always been vigilant about.

“We clean like crazy,” Green said. “We’re doing everything we can. I think the interesting thing that I’ve seen is, people coming in, I half expected them to all be wearing masks and getup but they really have not. The people that have been coming it seem to be open to being ‘normal’ again.”

Green ordered masks for all of her employees, who have been wearing them voluntarily and will also wear one at the request of the customer.

“When we clear tables we wear gloves, when we go to tables we approach them cautiously, and if they want us to put everything on, we’ll put everything on,” she said. “It’s an individual preference. It gives people a peace of mind.”

Green hopes the gradual reopening of the state will not suffer any setbacks, and looks forward to being able to serve the community at 100 percent capacity.

“I get that it has to go at a slow pace,” she said.

One Cape Coral restaurant is still keeping its door closed to dine-in despite the OK from the governor.

Sicily Trattoria on Cape Coral Parkway, owned by Vinny Tumminello, will wait until June 1 to reopen for dining services.

“It’s not just for me and my family, it’s for my guests,” Tumminello said of his decision. “I just don’t want to see lots of people in the same room. People are still going to walk by each other, still cross paths.”

His worst fear is two customers getting into an argument due to the pandemic.

If one customer walks to the bathroom, passes a table and happens to cough on the way by, then what?

“I don’t want to have to remove people from the restaurant because of an altercation,” he said.

The traditional Italian restaurant is still offering takeout services, as they have during the entirety of their shutdown.

Tumminello said when they do reopen, they will offer outdoor seating and possibly even order high-quality disposable dinnerware for guests so they will not have to use glass, even if washed.

He said his staff has been understanding of the situation.

“My staff, as much as I want them back, they understand where I’m coming from and most of them agree with me,” Tumminello said.

It’s not just restaurants that are able to open up; “non-essential” retailer also can open their doors to the public, also at the 25 percent capacity rate.

Razzle Dazzle Boutique, a women’s clothing store in Cape Coral owned by Ralph and Cathy Sangiovanni, once again welcomed customers all week to browse their array of clothing items.

The husband and wife owners said it wasn’t too much of a challenge this week to practice social distancing standards in their 2,000-plus-square-foot shop on Cape Coral Parkway.

“When we first opened up, we did have a lot of customers, but they were staggered,” Cathy said.

Her partner said he could tell people have wanted to take a break from life at home.

“They were very eager to get out and do some shopping and just kind of get out of the house and celebrate a little freedom,” Ralph said.

It was also good to see some familiar faces come back to the retail shop that has been open in the Cape since 1991.

“Our customers are like family to us,” Cathy said. “We were so happy to see each other.”

Razzle Dazzle has hand sanitizer at each end of the store, and masks and gloves available for when customers try clothes on.

They are wiping down all of the dressing room mirrors and surfaces and hangers.

All sales, for the time being at the store, are “final.”

If a customer tries something on and decides they do not want to purchase that item, Razzle Dazzle will steam that item of clothing to sanitize it.

“We’re taking all precautions we possibly can,” Cathy said.

They look forward to continue serving the community during this time and after.

“Without the community, there is no us, period,” Ralph said. “Like everyone else, we’re impacted (financially) but we’ve been through worse.”

Cathy said the store is currently overstocked because of inventory that was ordered for their busiest months: March and April. Now that those months have essentially gone to the coronavirus, they have plenty to provide to the community.

Razzle Dazzle is currently holding a 25 percent off storewide sale.

FINS Seafood & Dive Bar is at 3422 Del Prado Blvd.

Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery is at 927 Cape Coral Parkway. Visit its Facebook page for more information.

Fish Tale Grill by Merrick Seafood is at 1229 S.E. 47th Terrace. Visit www.fishtalegrill.com for more information.

Chicago Pizza is at 1341 SE 47th Terrace.

Sicily Trattoria is at 1211 Cape Coral Parkway.

Razzle Dazzle is at 1335 Cape Coral Parkway.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj