After weeks of uncertainty, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced early May that businesses will reopen in phases, following social distancing and CDC guidelines. And while Ponte Vedra businesses have started opening their doors, they also found new ways to adapt to the “new normal.”
Although DeSantis just increased customer capacity to 50% starting May 18, the capacity limit was only 25% the week before, and local restaurants like Trasca & Co. Eatery and the Aqua Grill have brainstormed concepts to attract guests without risking their safety.
“Thankfully, we didn’t have to let anyone go, even during the “to-go only” phase,” said Trasca & Co.’s co-owner Karina Coryell. “What we did to try and increase business was expand and work on our grab-and-go sales.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trasca already offered grab-and-go meals for busy guests, but to adapt with the lockdown, Trasca brought grab-and-go items directly to neighborhoods for residents to pick up.
“We created pop-ups in neighborhoods and just scheduled different times,” Cowell said, adding that items on the menu are also ever-changing. “No one wants to eat the same meals and people love the food offered, so all you have to do is heat and serve.”
Unlike Trasca, many employees at the Aqua Grill were temporarily laid off before the reopening of dine-ins, according to owner Cary Hart. But thanks to the implementation of deliveries and community support, Hart says the restaurant is slowly but surely getting back in action.
“We have most of our staff back for lunch and dinner and are offering delivery, which has never been done before,” Hart said, excited to be back in business.
Also happy to return to work is Aqua Grill’s head hostess Jamie Fowler, who was put on furlough and left unemployed since the shutdown began March 13.
Being a mother, Fowler was concerned about how she would take care of her family. She filed for unemployment and has yet to receive any assistance.
“Obviously I had to support my kids,” Fowler said. “So, it was definitely worrisome. I looked for other jobs a little online but wasn’t able to find anything.”
When Fowler found out she was finally able to return to work, she was nervous about how the restaurant would run under the new guidelines, but it was all worth it to be reemployed and reunited with coworkers.
“They brought us all back a week early to get the restaurant clean and ready,” she said. “It was just nice to be with all the employees again.”
Fowler also said she missed seeing Aqua Grill’s regulars.
“Our loyal customers were still getting to-go orders before [reopening dining], but it’s not the same as when they come in. It’s nice to see their smiling faces again,” she said.
Kendra Cantlon, co-owner of nail salon Bellezza Salon & Boutique, said the same about her loyal clients and guests.
“[It’s a struggle], not being able to shake hands or hug your clients,” Cantlon said, but she and her staff resist in order to reopen, stay clean and bring a safe and positive experience for those in need of a little confidence boost.
“[I had] tears of joy and was overwhelmed. But also felt confident and prepared to open in a safe and sterile environment.”
Aside from keeping all tools sterile and limiting the number of appointments per day, Cantlon requires that both clients and employees wear masks to enter the hair salon and if clients don’t have one, the salon will provide a mask for them.
“We also recommend bringing their own drink and reading material, and to come in by themselves, not in groups,” she said.
Despite the extra steps taken, Ponte Vedra businesses are ready to persist during the pandemic and make up for lost time, financially and mentally.
“[We’re] lifting the morale,” Cantlon said. “Making people feel better about themselves, bringing positivity into their lives.”