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Tampa Bay restaurants prepare to partially reopen as COVID-19 restrictions loosen

Some owners are apprehensive about opening too soon
Posted at 6:12 PM, Apr 30, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Restaurants across Florida are brainstorming ways to safely reopen following the new guidance from Governor Ron DeSantis allowing businesses to serve customers inside at 25% capacity and at outdoor tables spaced 6 feet apart.

Starting Monday, businesses will be able to choose if they’d like to start serving customers at their restaurants again. While some Tampa Bay area businesses tell ABC Action News they are anxious to reopen, others are apprehensive.

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Stephen Hiance at the Brass Bowl Kitchen and Juicery on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg says he can’t wait to welcome customers back.

“We’re excited. Beyond excited. We’re just ready to rock and roll,” he said, with a smile.

His fast casual style restaurant’s dining room will be half open starting Monday. He plans to space tables at least 6 feet apart and wipe down all dining surfaces between each customer.

“It brings happiness. We’ve all been stuck inside for so long and we long for interactions with other humans. Being able to sit there and talk to people even 6 feet apart, I think you’ll see more strangers become friends,” Hiance added.

A half mile away at Red Mesa Cantina, the chairs inside the restaurant’s dining room will sit untouched for at least for a few more weeks. Owner Peter Veytia is choosing to keep his dining room closed and stay focused on pickup and delivery options.

“The ramifications of jumping the gun on this are too serious,” he said.

While he’s anxious, like everyone else, to get back to normal, Veytia worries about a second peak in COVID-19 cases.

“If we’re closed for another 2 or 3 weeks and we do get on the other side of this, and all the other places around the country are opening up and show positive results, then we can do it. We’re just not going to be the first ones to experiment with something this critical,” he emphasized.

Danielle Egger is a food safety expert who represents more than 260 restaurants statewide from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys. She heads up food safety training courses for businesses and says she has heard from many clients that they are nervous about reopening too soon.

Egger recommends several ways restaurants can stay safe including switching to a reservation only system to prevent too many guests coming into a building, reducing weekly deliveries, going cashless, designating sanitation buckets for each area of the restaurant and using disposable items like paper menus and condiment packets.

“My advice is just start slow and if you don’t feel comfortable opening your restaurant yet, don’t. People should understand this is a terrifying time and none of us have ever been through something like this,” Egger said.

Egger’s company, Florida Food Safety Systems, is also offering free training for restaurants during COVID-19.

Governor Ron DeSantis says the choice to reopen restaurants is entirely up to each business.