South Florida Restaurants Face Tough Decisions Amid COVID-19 Business Closures



It is a common word in restaurant windows around Miami’s Upper Eastside.

When Miami-Dade County ordered the closure of dining rooms on March 17th because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many eateries in this revitalized art-deco neighborhood vowed to keep the food flowing with take-out and delivery, but that proved to be harder and more costly than many could handle. 

Biscayne Boulevard institution Jimmy’s East-Side Diner initially tried the take-out concept but today sits empty. 

The same is true for Italian eatery Battubelin, and 79th Street neighbor Wabi Sabi by Shuji. The small Japanese concept by well-known chef Shuji Hiyakawa posted on its Instagram page March 14th - ahead of the shutdown - that the spot would be offering curbside pick-up. Four days later, a new Instagram post read in part, “we believe it’s best we close our doors for the safety of our guest and employees…”

According to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), before the coronavirus, the hospitality industry in the state provided about 14 percent of jobs, representing $111.7 billion. The shutdown eliminated most of those jobs overnight, and restaurants all over South Florida continue to close. 

One unnamed national restaurant chain based in Florida with nearly 350 outlets has laid off every hourly employee and is operating with managers only, working seven days a week, according to FRLA Senior Vice President, Geoff Luebkemann. 

“They’ve got about a 90 percent sales decrease and are running about 10 percent of normal volume," said Luebkemann. 

NBC 6's Sheli Muniz has tips you need to know to stay safe when you're sitting down at the table in the coming weeks.

Profit margins in the restaurant business are not enormous to begin with, according to Luebkemann. 

Best case scenarios put profits around eight percent. Fine dining runs in the two percent range.  

Many fine dining restaurants are struggling with the conversion to take-out and delivery and have opted to close. 

One reason, their customers are not accustomed to ordering online from these kind of restaurants. But also, the food does not always transport well.   

Ferraro’s Kitchen Restaurant and Wine Bar is attempting to stay open by adapting its gourmet Italian menu. The Upper Eastside dining spot has significantly reduced the number and type of offerings on the menu. 

Ferraro’s Kitchen Restaurant and Wine Bar is attempting to stay open by adapting its gourmet Italian menu.

Chef and owner Igor Ferraro was forced to lay-off 15 employees - leaving he and his wife, Cristiana, to operate, cook and clean seven days a week. 

“I’m trying to keep it alive,” said Ferraro. “But I don’t know how long I’m going to last to be honest with you.”

Ferraro said his daily sales over the past two weeks have not been enough to pay for the natural gas to operate the stove and the electricity, but he will continue to cook as long as possible.

“I’m here. I’m part of the community. I struggle everyday. I’m not making any money, but I want them to remember that we are here and we are struggling like they are struggling.”

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