Miami Restaurateurs David Grutman, Scott Linquist, and Others Share Thoughts on Reopening

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Scott Linquist

Photo by 52Chefs

On March 17, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber essentially closed the Miami-Dade County’s hospitality industry by announcing the closure of restaurants, bars, and clubs to avoid the coronavirus Contain pandemic.

Almost two months later, DeSantis announced a gradual reopening of the state, a plan that since yesterday has allowed restaurants to open under strict guidelines for seated service. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are excluded from the first phase of the DeSantis plan, but it won’t be long before Southeast Florida lifts restrictions on restaurants so they can greet guests in their dining rooms and outdoor areas once again.

When that happens, local restaurateurs know they are bound by strict restrictions on seating capacity, physical distancing, and sanitation. But beyond those constraints, the governor’s plan as it is currently unfolding is open to interpretation, and the restaurant owners trying to plan ahead – that is, almost all of them – don’t have much to do.

The New Times interviewed a handful of restaurateurs looking for their thoughts on what the future might look like. From simplified menus to enhanced security and equipment, here are some changes you may welcome the first time you sit in your favorite spot in three months or more.

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David Grutman

Swan, OTL, Papi Steak, Planta, Komodo
I’m looking forward to picking up the teams again. There will be a lot of fear in the beginning, but I think what people miss the most is going to restaurants, bars and nightclubs. But they also want to take responsibility. It won’t be that easy to flip a switch.

I think with testing and hoping for a vaccine, Miami will slowly recover. Even if we were the first to close our restaurants and clubs, we may not be the first to open. We might want to see what’s going on. I think people will continue to wear masks for a long time, and I think the Miami kiss on the cheek will be a thing of the past.

As for the rest of the year, I don’t have a crystal ball. We’re in uncharted waters, but we haven’t stopped any design or construction – I have a huge investment in this community. I know that every scientist in every country is working on it and will crack the code for the coronavirus.

Cindy Hutson

Ortanique
We need to reinvent Ortanique. I don’t think eating white tablecloths will work anymore. However, I don’t think I should change Ortanique’s culture as it has been around for 21 years. But I know that people will be careful when they watch out for their money. Therefore, I will consistently deliver great food prepared with my same passion, just with the thought that it has to be affordable.

Niven Patel

Ghee Indian cuisine, Erba
I’ve been brainstorming with our teams about what things will be like when we’re on the other side of all of this. We don’t know all of the guidelines, but operating at 50 percent capacity is likely within the range of what’s going to happen.

Moving to a business model that offers more take-away and delivery will be critical to business survival. People won’t even want to hold menus, so we’ve set up internet solutions so people can order from their smartphones. We think about all of these things every day.

Our farm helped us a lot because we have so much of everything. The main problem is: how do we harvest all of this and get it on the menu?

Otto Othman

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My first and most important responsibility is to protect my team and my guests. We closed our dining room before the emergency order. We have eight stationary locations in South Florida that employ around 180 people. Nobody got a pay cut. We created a group chat and panned and changed. We have ordered thermometers and do wellness checks for everyone who walks in the door.

It’s like a movie. You go to work and you have to wear a mask. We conduct hygiene exercises every 30 minutes, during which everyone has to take off their gloves, wash their hands and disinfect every part of the restaurant. I don’t see that go away.

When the open order is announced, we somehow want to hold back and slowly open, because the well-being of my team comes first. We’re going to remove tables. We will most likely not allow people to get their own sodas and condiments. The coronavirus has made us adopt new trends like online ordering. You place an order and each table can have a QR code so we know where to deliver your food – which is actually a much better experience than waiting in line at a fast casual restaurant.

Scott Linquist

Coyo taco
We had a good percentage of delivery and take away orders built in so we were geared towards speed in this category. We have ten locations in total (five in South Florida) and we’re just trying to get from point A to point B and figure out what happens when we reopen. We can’t get the volume up like we did before and we can’t put people in our backbar. How do you distance people in a 1,200 square meter bar? The seats have always been tight and the order lines are tight.

At the moment we are considering opening up the rear bars as additional seating areas in the dining room. Of course we will have markings on the sidewalk to keep people away from each other and we will continue to wash, disinfect and use face masks and gloves. We have now packed salsa instead of the salsa bar.

I think the opening will be a gradual boost but I think it will be sooner rather than later. I think healthy people are ready to go to work. Of course we want to make sure we don’t infect people, and we do this with caution, but if our economy goes down we are doomed.

Michael Beltran

Ariete, Chug’s diner
At the moment we plan to open as soon as we have the green light, but we don’t want to plan too much in advance as we don’t really know the guidelines that will be announced.

We assume we’ll be operating at 25 percent capacity, with the outdoor seating six feet apart. We have a condensed menu and different opening times. We try to work with what we see trending across the country, but nothing is certain right now.

However, we still believe that eating is an experience. I firmly believe that one day things can go back to normal, but if people try to be impatient with the reopening it will backfire. It’s not like someone has a blueprint for what’s to come. It has never happened before. I know that no restaurant can survive long under these circumstances. Right now we’re lucky that people support us and like our creative aspects. It gives people a sense of normalcy.

Peter Vauthy

Red South Beach, Red Pinecrest
I just had a meeting with what’s left of my staff to see what Red is doing in preparation for our opening. We installed HEPA filters and ordered non-contact hand disinfection stations for the restaurant entrance. We will, at least for now, print one-way menus on paper to avoid cross-contamination. We have planned social distancing in the dining room to make sure all tables are two meters apart. That makes our dining capacity about 30 percent of what it is on a busy evening. We have hired a toilet master to clean every bathroom after every use. We have ordered masks for all employees and the kitchen staff will wear disposable gloves. We’re going to go through thousands of gloves. It’s not environmentally friendly, but it’s what we have to do.

It seems the bar doesn’t open at the beginning so our bartenders will be serving tables for a while. We are going to put plexiglass partitions between the bar booths. I ordered digital thermometers and we will log everyone’s temperatures and send people home when they have a fever. This place will be as clean and hygienic as any other place you have ever come across. It’s the best i can do

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