Miami-Dade Restaurant Owners Cautiously Prepare To Bring Back Indoor Dining
Miami-Dade is set to reopen indoor dining rooms at 50 percent capacity, starting Monday. Restaurant owners are now reacting differently after an initial reopening earlier this summer.
Many Miami-Dade restaurant owners are preparing for another pivot during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced this week that the county is allowing indoor dining rooms to reopen at 50 percent capacity — beginning Monday. The move comes as the county’s infection rate has been hovering around the 10 percent public health benchmark.
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The county took a similar step in late May and ended up rolling that back soon after, amid a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
WLRN spoke with three restaurant owners about how they’re getting ready for this next round of reopening.
Ani Meinhold, owner of Phuc Yea in Miami-Dade’s Upper East Side neighborhood, said the county should’ve waited to make a decision about reopening until after Labor Day weekend.
“Who’s to say there’s isn’t a spike because of Labor Day travel, and then all of sudden, we have to close back down again?” she said.
Phuc Yea, a Vietnamese restaurant, currently offers outdoor seating. About 40 people can be served at any given time, Meinhold said.
Meinhold is concerned about staffing. She said she’d have to hire about half a dozen new people to fill tables at 50 percent capacity indoors.
Rehiring can be logistically complicated. A new spike in cases could set back the process of onboarding folks.
“Every single person that’s a new hire goes through a certain amount of growing pains,” Meinhold said. “Call it a four to six-week period. To prepare for indoor dining from now until Monday is a very short window.”
Meinhold said the ebb and flow of reopening and closing back down has been challenging as restaurants and other businesses struggle to meet other requirements from mask wearing to social distancing.
“We have been in a period of flux. We’re always forced to adapt. That’s a stress for us as operators,” she said.
Luciana Giangrandi and her partner, Alex Meyer, are the chefs who run Boia De — named after Livorno, a town in Italy that she visited as a child. The duo serves modern Italian dishes at an unassuming strip mall in Little Haiti.
The 27-seat place was open just nine months before the pandemic hit in March.
“We became a completely different restaurant,” she said. “We did absolutely no takeout. It was actually a policy that we didn’t do to-go food.”
Like many other restaurants, Boia De launched takeout — via the most Miami of food channels, a ventanita, which was already part of the restaurant’s exterior — and took some orders for delivery.
During the first reopening, Boia De reopened for about 10 days before having to close again. Given that experience, Giangrandi said she’s taking this next reopening slowly. She’s waiting one to two weeks before setting up three indoor tables. Outdoor seating remains available.
“Financially, it’s the smartest thing to do as a business to reopen immediately. We always joke that we’re masochists. We don’t necessarily do the smartest business. We go by our gut about what feels right,” she said with a laugh.
Edgar Leal decided to rebrand his Wynwood restaurant Leal Bistro after closing in March during the initial business shutdowns. He changed the name from Leal Bistro to Totem and updated the presentation of his South American fusion menu.
“It’s not that I changed the concept. I changed the context. I’m in Wynwood so I needed to change to learn about what’s going on. We still cook the same bases,” he said.
Leal said he’s planning to gradually ease into reopening over the next few days. He and his wife and dessert maven, Mariana Montero, have been taking deliveries to keep afloat in the meantime.
Leal is opening outdoor dining Friday — a fairly late decision. The county made this concession earlier this summer, after the first tightening of restrictions prompted ire from many restaurant owners.
Leal said he’ll offer limited indoor dining, starting Monday, and just for dinner service. He said he’ll see how things are going over the next two weeks before opening up for lunchtime again.
“We’ll do like 40 to 30 percent,” he said. “We want to do it cautiously.”