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Family-owned restaurant goes above and beyond to keep customers safe

Restaurants opt-in for enhanced COVID-19 training
East Lake Cafe in Palm Harbor, Seal of Commitment decal.
Posted at 11:50 AM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 18:49:09-04

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — As the pandemic continues to impact every part of our lives, restaurants are doing everything they can to earn back customer trust.

In Palm Harbor, East Lake Cafe is one of only a handful of businesses in Pinellas County to receive a new Seal of Commitment award for COVID-19 sanitization and best practices.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association started the newly created training program. The goal, empower restaurants to follow strict guidelines to keep staff and customers safe.

"They put out this program, and I saw it and said this looks like a good thing," Peter Pergola, the owner of East Lake Cafe, said. "Hopefully, it tells them, yes, we are complying with all CDC regulations and all the recommendations of Florida and the National Restaurant Association. We are giving masks to people if they don't have them, and surprisingly even to date, we have to refuse people because they don't want to put a mask on the inside. So, that's hurtful, but I don't want to compromise my staff or any of the customers that are coming here."

Pergola said there is no room for error.

"It's my livelihood. But, it's also 18 of my employees' livelihoods as well. I'm responsible for that. If we don't comply with things and God forbid that we get shut down again. I'm responsible for that. We take their temperatures every day. We are using disposable menus."

"We take it a step further, and we operate a curriculum that is COVID specific for sanitation and safety. It's more of a public health intervention based curriculum," Geoff Luebkemann, the Senior Vice President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said. "To get our patrons to come back, we need to be very transparent and very clearly demonstrate to them our commitment to their safety. This is about protecting our teammates, our associates, as well as our guests."

Restaurants pay a fee and apply online filing supporting documents and then will be trained by the Florida Lodging and Restaurant Association.

Pergola is 66 and wanted to retire by 70. He knows he might be adding a few more years of work because of COVID-19.

"I would encourage all the restaurants to get it because it enhances the safe staff certificate that many of their employees have. It just gives them that extra sense of defense and security," Pergola said.

For a complete list of restaurants training on the new program, click here.