REDINGTON SHORES, Fla. — As local restaurants and hotels get ready for spring break next week, they say gas prices haven't impacted strong tourist projections for the holiday.
In Redington Shores, Broke N Bored isn’t just a catchphrase for Jim Scherer, it’s the name of his eclectic restaurant, which is located just feet away from the white sand and Gulf water that brings so many visitors to the area and the popular grill.
“Instead of doing grouper sandwiches, we do hogfish sandwiches. We do scratch barbeque,” he said. “I mean, all of our stuff is made from scratch right here.”
Outside the restaurant, a shiny, new pit smoker is stacked with brisket and ribs. The intoxicating smell of low-and-slow barbeque is carried via sea breeze across the small parking lot. Inside the restaurant, chefs cook up the fillets of whatever anglers are catching — cobia and hogfish, lately.
Scherer conducts the orchestra of seafood and ‘que. And right now, it’s almost time to perform. The restaurant is getting ready for its busy spring break season.
“Next week is going to be the busiest week of the year,” said Scherer.
This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a distant memory for some, restaurants like Broke N Bored are seeing a return to normal. Just steps from his restaurant is a beach access parking lot that Scherer said has been filling up by midday lately.
“Very typically, it looks like a NASCAR race in slow motion over there,” he joked.
While he believes the engine of the local tourist economy is roaring again, not everything is normal. Gas prices are climbing to historic heights in the Sunshine State with no end in sight.
Friday morning, the average price of gas in Florida crept up to $4.38 a gallon, which was four cents higher than the national average.
“It’s not a good price,” Scherer quipped. “Honestly, my professional opinion, gas prices are unsustainable when they get much higher than $4 or $5 a gallon because it does just pass through to everything.”
Still, Sherer doesn’t think the spring break economy will dip. Travis Johnson, Hotel Manager of TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach, doesn’t think so either.
If anything, he believes the need for Florida sunshine is shining brighter.
“Typically, in a normal year, you know, this two-month window here is a busy one for us, but this one — it started earlier and it seems like people are coming from further away as well,” Johnson said.
If gas prices do keep creeping up, however, the summer season could be impacted. With the potential of fewer tourists from afar, Floridians on ‘staycations’ could become a bigger part of the equation for beachside resorts and restaurants.
“I mean, the local market is always important to us, and I think if gas prices continue the way that we’re seeing the trend, I think that will, you know, definitely increase,” Johnson said. “We have a radius here that’s not that far to drive to, and you know, folks can come and jump in the car, couple hours, not spend too much on gas, and not have to leave the property when they get here, so we’re fortunate in that regard.”
At Broke N Bored, Scherer also counts on the same local support.
“The locals have built this business, you know, they’ve always supported me,” he said.
Even as the price of gas at local stations hits panic-inducing heights, Scherer adopts the laid-back attitude that — like the aroma of good food — permeates his friendly beachside eatery.
“Everything will be just fine,” he said.