Villages restaurants eyeing measures to slowly reopen amid COVID-19 crisis

Restaurant owners in The Villages are working hard on plans for reopening amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

Like most Floridians, they anxiously awaited direction from Gov. Ron DeSantis late Wednesday afternoon when he announced that Florida would start reopening in various phases. DeSantis said his “Phase One” plan came about because new cases of the Coronavirus have dramatically slowed following several weeks of social distancing and precautions taken by residents throughout the state. During the height of the pandemic, many restaurants were reduced to takeout service only, while some decided it was better to just close until the virus was deemed to be under control.

City Fire in Lake Sumter Landing

DeSantis said restaurants can reopen on Monday, May 4, but they can only use 25 percent capacity inside their facilities to assure social distancing. They also can offer outdoor seating with no set capacity as long as social distancing is being practiced.

Gina Buell, who along with husband Mike owns the City Fire restaurants in The Villages, has put together a very specific set of procedures to use as they slowly attempt to return to normal. The Lake Sumter Landing location will open Monday and the Brownwood restaurant will follow when it is prepared to do so.

Some of the changes at the eateries will include tables spaced out throughout the restaurants, disposable menus, single-use cups, plastic utensils sealed in plastic bags, and all food put in to-go containers with clear lids and delivered to tables in bags. To-go orders and curbside pickup still will be available to customers who prefer to eat their meals at home.

Buell said her employees will arrive at work in staggered shifts to eliminate groups being together. She said employees will have their temperatures taken and they have been trained in how to “swiftly” respond to a suspected case of COVID-19 inside the eatery.

Village of Springdale resident Diane Ealence used the free hand sanitizer at City Fire in Lake Sumter Landing in March before restaurant dining rooms were shut down by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Buell added that employees will be provided masks and be required to wear those while working at the restaurants. Gloves will be provided to employees whose responsibilities require them to wear them, as determined by medical experts and local and federal government guidelines. Sanitized pens will be provided for customers to sign their checks, sanitizer dispensers will be available for customers and plexiglass-type barriers have been ordered to cover the ice behind the bars.

Employees also will be reminded not to touch their faces and to practice physical distancing by standing at least six feet away from customers and other employees whenever possible. They also will be instructed to wash their hands every 30 minutes for 20 seconds and to use hand sanitizer on completion of every new task like taking an order, delivering food or cleaning a table.

Buell said at least one employee will be dedicated to cleaning and sanitizing high-traffic areas every 15 minutes – a measure she first put in place in early March – with others taking on that responsibility as well when needed. Servers will be responsible for sanitizing the chairs and tables they are responsible for.

Buell said they also created a COVID-19 safety committee comprised of management and employees from each department. That committee’s primary function will be to continually research and update best practices in regard to Coronavirus procedures from the CDC, National Restaurant Association and the Florida Health Department.

Bluefin Grill & Bar in Brownwood

Meanwhile, Fred Karimipour, owner of FMK Restaurant Group, also has created a set of guidelines for his employees to follow at his seven Villages eateries – The Chop House at Lake Sumter Landing, Bluefin Grill & Bar, Belle Glade Country Club, Bonifay Country Club, Evans Prairie Country Club, Orange Blossom Hills Country Club and Scooples Ice Cream Parlor.

Karimipour’s employees will have their temperatures checked when they arrive for work. They will wear masks and gloves, which will be changed often. Disposable menus and tablecloths will be in use and tables will be spaced more than 6 feet apart, with no bar seating available.

Karimipour said his employees will continue to receive extensive training with guidelines from EcoSure, a private food safety auditor that conducts random food safety and public health checks throughout the year. He said his customers can be rest assured that his management team and staff are taking reopening steps quite seriously and will do everything possible to keep them safe while they are dining in his restaurants.

Bonifay Country Club

Karimipour added that his eateries will continue their successful takeout services and encouraged customers who still prefer to eat at home to visit his website, fmkdelivery.com, and/or use an app for mobile devices that’s offered through the Apple Store and Google Play. That allows customers to order meals and cocktails that will be delivered directly to their homes. Those customers can pay for the items when they placed their orders and the delivery person can leave them outside their door – thereby eliminating all human contact and adhering to the social distancing guidelines that are in place.

Allen Musikantow, owner/operator of the three Cody’s Original Roadhouse restaurants in The Villages, said Wednesday morning he was awaiting solid guidelines from the Florida Restaurant Association and DeSantis’ plan to begin reopening the state. He said his restaurants are different than many others in the local area because they offer entertainment and aren’t really geared toward takeout services.

Along those lines, Musikantow shut down his eateries in March rather than try to get by on takeout orders. He said he’ll look at plans for reopening when he’s sure it will be safe for both his customers and employees.

“I’m not a doctor,” he said. “I’m a restaurant operator and safety is the number one priority for us as we move forward.”

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