It’s a tale of two counties, as restaurateurs and gym owners in Miami-Dade and Broward face new restrictions due to rising Covid-19 cases. The cutbacks have led to outrage among many local businesses, with a march planned Friday in downtown Miami.
In Miami-Dade, Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Monday initially announced that restaurants would have to close all seating and offer takeout and delivery only, and gyms would also have to shut down again. Then he changed his mind. Restaurants, if they had it, could offer outdoor dining, and gyms could stay open as long as gym goers kept their masks on at all times indoors. Outdoor dining is now restricted to tables of four people.
The initial announcement, and the back and forth, have prompted protests – both in person and online – in Miami-Dade. A countywide curfew that’s in effect indefinitely closes all non-essential businesses at 10 p.m., including eateries.
“There was sort of mass anger and outrage across the industry when we were given 48 hours notice of a shutdown,” said Nick Sharp, owner of Threefold Cafe, on Tuesday. “Decisions are being made by the mayor in isolation.”
To voice their opinions, restaurant owners in Miami-Dade are leading a socially distanced protest at the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami on Friday, starting at 11 a.m.
As of Thursday, there have been 232,718 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Florida, with 55,961 cases in Miami-Dade County, according to the Florida Department of Health.
In Broward, an emergency order now restricts restaurants from serving food at 10 p.m. or later. Seating is limited to six people per table before 10 p.m., and if patrons are from the same household, it’s limited to 10 people per table. Any business that violates the new rules will be shut down for a period of 24 hours upon first offense, and 72 hours upon second offense.
Jaime Sturgis, a broker and property owner in Fort Lauderdale, called Broward’s emergency order “a measured response” that gives business owners the opportunity to do the right things with the “bad actors” being punished appropriately.
“The business community was looking at it as ‘we all shouldn’t be penalized for a few bad actors,’” Sturgis said. “The trust and verify system is the right decision.”
The closures brought on by the pandemic in recent months have led to a number of restaurants closing permanently throughout the country and in South Florida. In Fort Lauderdale, both Valentino Cucina Italiana and One Door East are among those shutting down for good, the Sun Sentinel reported.
The situation may be more dire in Miami-Dade, brokers and restaurateurs say. The changing rules are hurting restaurants that were already hanging on by a thread.
On top of the pandemic, “This is the worst time of the year for restaurants. We’re going into hurricane season,” said Felix Bendersky, restaurant broker and owner of F+B Hospitality. Bendersky received 13 calls on Wednesday of restaurant owners wanting to sell.
“Maybe we can open, maybe we can’t,” he said. “It’s crippling the economy.”
Bendersky counted at least nine restaurants on and near Miracle Mile, a popular dining destination in Coral Gables, that are now on the market.
Lee Schrager, senior vice president of communications and corporate social responsibility for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, posted on Instagram in support of reopening dining rooms, tagging Mayor Gimenez.
“There is still time for you to do the right thing and keep Miami restaurants open,” wrote Schrager, who founded the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. “We want and need to be part of the solution.”
The shifting regulations are “not exactly feasible or sustainable,” for restaurants, Sharp of Threefold Cafe said. He referred to the impact on the owners, staff, food distributors and the entire supply chain, including property owners who rely on their tenants to pay rent.
The Miami-Dade County League of Cities’ Mayors Coalition passed a resolution disapproving of the order banning indoor dining on Thursday. Twenty five mayors backed the order, including those from Aventura, Coral Gables, Doral, Miami, Miami Beach, South Miami and Pinecrest.
Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid is among the individual mayors to speak out against Gimenez’s order. Cid wrote on Facebook that “the latest shutdown has the potential to destroy many small businesses” and urged the county mayor to reconsider.
“We need to remember the risks that these restaurateurs take in building the space. There’s a very high failure rate,” Sturgis said. “A handful of bad actors shouldn’t shut down an entire industry.”