Despite blow to service industry, local restaurants strive to keep afloat

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Local businesses and restaurants are taking a blow as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to reap across the United States, leaving millions unemployed and fearful of what the future will bring financially.

But with the right staff, strategies and support system, local restaurants have started to see a light of hope.

“March is a huge month with THE PLAYERS’ and March Madness, so we really felt the impact immediately after THE PLAYERS’ Championship was canceled that Friday,” said Bogey Grill owner Derek Prince.

Erik Osel, owner and chef of new local eatery McFlamingo, said they noticed a huge change just last week, at the end of March and beginning of April.

“There were more and more people with gloves and face masks and significantly less business during lunch hours,” Osel said, noticing the changes in his guests. “It’s kind of weird, the whole industry is at dismay, but we’re remaining positive. We’re just fortunate to still sell fresh products.”

McFlamingo focuses on healthy, yet hearty ingredients to craft unique, flavorful and filling salads, among other entrees. With many businesses limiting their hours and delivery schedule, Osel is thankful for what he’s still able to get.

“We used to get tri-colored cauliflower for our salads,” he said. Now, we can only get white cauliflower.”

The restaurant also offered salmon and mahi, but choosing quality over quantity, Osel removed mahi from the menu for now to keep up with the McFlamingo standards.

“Our vendor wasn't able to meet the standards,” Osel said. “Most vendors reduced the times that they drop off their product. Mondays would be our double delivery day. Now, it’s down to just one.”

Another downfall is restaurants have had to deal with is the reduction in staff.

“We had 40 employees. Now, we’re down to about six to eight,” Prince said. “We screen them, check their temperatures and make sure they're feeling OK, and following orders from the CDC and health department.”

Prince said those still on staff are staying as positive as they can, cleaning, painting and renovating areas around the restaurant, projects that normally couldn’t get done during the day.

Ponte Vedra’s Aqua Grill owner, Cary Heart, had to do the same by cutting down to 25% of his original staff. But despite the struggles, Heart praised them all for their hard work and positivity.

“Things are going well as far as the circumstances,” he said. “The staff is doing an incredible job. We’ve been here 32 years and have never seen anything like this. We want to be supportive of the community seven days a week and give them the option to dine at one of their favorite restaurants. We’re helping the staff make a living as much as we can, and we want to step up when things get difficult.”

Aqua Grill “stepped up” last Sunday and provided a free meal for hospitality workers in the area. Heart wants to provide the same for medical workers and first responders.

“We want to do this again with health care workers and see if anyone would want to help donate with us. We could provide 25 meals and someone else could provide another 25 meals and donate it all to those working in health care,” he said.

Osel and the McFlamingo staff are in for the cause as well, stating that if any guest wanted to order meals for healthcare workers, McFlamingo would offer special discounts and deliver the meals to the workers.

“We’re really fortunate that we have amazing support from the community and people that know us,” Osel said. “The last few weeks, they’ve been coming out, keeping the lights on for us. So, we just want to say thank you.”

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