The Reopening of Restaurants...
When Stefano’s Family Restaurant reopened on May 4, Linda and Bruce Hahn were among the first to know. The couple who have been regulars at the popular Englewood restaurant, since moving here in 2003, got a personal phone call from the owners’ family with the good news.
Not only did the Hahns and their friend and dining partner Dodi Sullivan, show up that Monday, Linda brought the owners a homemade pina colada pie.
“We couldn’t wait for it to reopen,” said Linda Hahn, over breakfast of poached eggs and crispy bacon (just the way she likes it), this past Sunday. The three delighted diners shared a table away from any other customers, happy to be back after almost two months away.
In Florida’s Phase I of business reopening after COVID-19 closures, Governor Ron DeSantis allowed restaurants to open indoor dining at 25% capacity and outdoor dining with social distancing. There were also stringent sanitation guidelines and staff are required to wear masks.
With an airy space that seats nearly 200, Stefano’s co-owner Daniel Pepaj, had more to work with than many other local restaurants. To get ready for the reopening, Pepaj said staff “cleaned, bleached, sanitized and put hand sanitizer everywhere.”
Linda Hahn didn’t mind the masks or the space between tables. “It’s the same people and the same food. It’s like a big family.” Sullivan added, “They know your quirks. They remember me and what I like.”
This Sunday was the first one back for indoor dining at the Country Hound in Palm Plaza. “I think everyone’s tired of cooking at home,” said manager Caraline Eisele. The laid-back eatery with photos all over the wall, had just about every booth and table filled, minus the several that had been removed to accommodate the new regulations. Eisele said that reopening the dining room allowed staff who wanted more hours to get back to work.
“I feel very comfortable,” said Steven Legg, a Sunday regular at Country Hound. “I think they’re going above and beyond.” Legg, who also works as a host at Ricaltini’s Bar and Grill, said that it’s not just the food people miss when restaurants close. “Running into people we know, seeing friends, that’s what we missed the most.” His friend Carrie Grues agreed. “I missed the community.”
Mikki Denaris LoRusso, co-owner of Prime Time Steak & Spirits, can second that. “We actually had a few regulars waiting outside at 4 pm the day we are able to reopen. They were thrilled to be able to come back and it was wonderful to welcome them back.”
Prime Time, one of the most established restaurants in the area, had been offering take-out since the dining room was shut down but LoRusso and her husband didn’t hesitate to shoot for a May 4th reopening at 25 percent of its 144-seat capacity.
LoRusso and the other restaurant owners are, of course, looking forward to the day when they can welcome customers to a full dining room and bustling bar. For now, LoRusso says she’s hoping to bring back entertainment on Friday evenings if social distancing allows, and to seeing more diners return to the restaurant.
They also understand that their customers’ health is the most important concern, so many might not return for weeks or months. Meanwhile, they are committed to working as hard as they can to provide a safe and hygienic environment while keeping as many as their staff employed as possible during an unprecedented crisis.
“Englewood is a fantastic community and this is all-new, and such a trying time for everyone,” said LoRusso. “Kindness, understanding and patience go a long way. We all have to work together to get things back to something resembling normal as soon as we can.”
For the Hahns and Sullivan, Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast at Stefano’s is getting things back to normal. “This place is like one big family,” said Linda Hahn. “Take out isn’t the same.”
On May 18, as this story was going to press, restaurants were permitted to increase indoor dining occupancy to 50%. To find out how your favorite restaurant is responding to the new guidelines, call, or visit a restaurant’s web or Facebook page.
If you have restaurant news, specials or information to share, email Sharyn Lonsdale at email@example.com with subject line DISH.