Countywide Coronavirus Order Closes Restaurant Dining Rooms and Bars UPDATED

Joe's Stone Crab
Joe's Stone Crab
Michele Eve Sandberg
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UPDATED 3/17 1:30 p.m.: This morning, in back-to-back press conferences, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and City of Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber essentially shuttered Miami-Dade County's hospitality industry.

At 10:45 a.m., DeSantis updated the state's number of COVID-19 cases to 192. He then announced further plans to reduce crowds from gathering across the state, including closing all bars and clubs for 30 days.  DeSantis stopped short of closing all restaurants and beaches statewide and left that decision to municipalities.

At 11 a.m., addressing reporters at a press conference inside Joe's Stone Crab, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber announced that all restaurant dining rooms in Miami-Dade would close. Gelber, who was flanked by Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Jennifer Moon, said the decision was not easy. "I've been on the phone all night and this morning with Mayor [Carlos A.] Gimenez. We are trying hard to react appropriately."

Gimenez was not present at the press conference; he has been self-quarantined in his home since last week after coming in contact with people who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Gelber noted that the plan — which essentially closes down all restaurant dining rooms, bars, movie theaters, arcades, gyms, clubs, bowling alleys, concert venues, beaches, and other spots — runs counter to everything Miami Beach stands for. "We are a community set up for people to come here for honeymoons, team building, and family time," the mayor said. "We are not a community built for social distancing. This is turning us on our head."

Nevertheless, Gelber continued, to protect the citizens of Miami-Dade, the closures must happen. He cited the smattering of spring breakers still on the beaches as an example of why closing gathering places is a necessity. "I've walked down the streets here and I've seen the spring breakers, and they think they're invincible. Maybe you are. But your mother, your grandmother — they're not invincible, and you have to think about the person next to you."

Gelber, along with Moon, then issued the order to close all restaurants, bars, clubs, taverns, cocktail lounges, breweries, and entertainment venues as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, March 17. Pharmacies, banks, hotels, grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores are excluded from the order.

Restaurants and hotel kitchens may still operate as takeout/pickup/drive-thru/delivery services only, though they must close daily by midnight. Airport and seaport restaurants are exempt from the order.

Beaches in Miami-Dade are also closed. Noting he is not seeking to have anyone arrested, Gelber said violators will be dispersed.

Miami Beach's entertainment district will, for all practical purposes, have a midnight curfew, allowing people time to pick up food from local restaurants-turned-takeaway windows. Police and code enforcement will enforce the order, Gelber said, adding that businesses that don't comply will be subject to criminal charges.

Gelber said Miami-Dade is partnering with Florida restaurant unions to provide relief to hospitality workers, in the form of two weeks' lost wages and three months of extended health benefits, although at this point details are scarce. 

When Joe's Stone Crab owner Steve Sawitz took the microphone, he said he had told his employees last night that the iconic restaurant would close. "We went into the east wing and spread out. They knew the writing was on the wall. I could see on their faces they knew it was coming that we were closing our doors indefinitely."

Sawitz described the mood as "somber and supportive." He said that Joe's Take Away will remain open, "so there will be a light on at Joe's," and that laid-off employees will be paid for two weeks in order to "let them be with their families and watch out for each other."

Sawitz noted Joe's closure will affect the fishing industry but emphasized it's necessary for the greater good of the community. "We are ready to support our city and state and country, and this won't beat us. But we have to do the right thing."

Felipe Valls Jr., the owner of Miami's Versailles Restaurant on SW Eighth Street as well as the chain La Carreta, stepped to the microphone to speak on behalf of his family, first in English and then in Spanish. "We have over 2,000 employees, and this is heartbreaking for us," Valls said, adding that his restaurants will offer to-go orders and will do their best to take care of the staff. "We're trying to pay as many people as we can for as long as we can."

Agreeing that the closures are necessary to slow the spread of the virus, Valls extended a plea on behalf of small-restaurant owners and then emphasized the hospitality industry's collective resolve.

"There are a lot of restaurants smaller than Joe's and Versailles," he said. "Hold on. Keep pushing and we'll get through this. We'll get through this."

Original story below:
Yesterday evening, the City of Miami reportedly decided to issue an order that will close all restaurant dining rooms and bars in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. Shortly thereafter, Miami-Dade County followed suit, calling for a press conference to take place at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach this morning at 11 o'clock.

Late last night, the Miami Herald reported that City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez plans to sign an emergency order that will essentially shut down all restaurant dining rooms and bars. Restaurants can still open to serve takeout, drive-thru, and delivery only. The Herald confirmed the news with the mayor, who is expected to announce the new rules today. Suarez has tested positive for COVID-19 and recently tweeted a video about his health. He is quarantined at home.

The measure is expected to take effect today, March 17, at 11:59 p.m., giving establishments less than a day to notify staff and decide whether to implement a takeout-only strategy or close temporarily.

Local 10 News reporter Janine Stanwood also confirmed the imminent closures with Mayor Suarez late Monday evening.

The edict mimics similar measures already in place in major U.S. cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

On March 15, the City of Miami announced that all nonessential businesses must close by 11 p.m. The City of Miami Beach then proclaimed all essential businesses must close by 10 p.m. All beaches in Miami Beach were shuttered as well. The City of Fort Lauderdale followed suit, closing beaches and establishing a business curfew of 10 p.m. The City of Hollywood also closed its beach and two-and-a-half-mile Broadwalk, although restaurants and shops along the popular seaside path remain open for now.

Many Miami restaurants have already closed their dining rooms in preparation for a takeout-only format. Chef Brad Kilgore has turned his Wynwood restaurant, Alter, into AlterQ Wine Shop & BBQ, a takeout and delivery service that offers barbecue and wine to go. Other eateries, such as Cafe La Trova and Blue Collar, have closed their doors until further notice.

The expected countywide move is a blow to Miami's hospitality industry, in which many small mom-and-pop eateries and bars are struggling to make ends meet and keep staff on the payroll.

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