Food Industry

Miami Restaurateurs Share Thoughts on Reopening Amid a Pandemic

Scott Linquist
Scott Linquist Photo by 52Chefs
On March 17, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber essentially shuttered Miami-Dade County's hospitality industry by announcing the closing of restaurant dining rooms, bars, and clubs in an attempt to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly two months later, DeSantis has announced a gradual reopening of the state, a plan that as of yesterday permits restaurants to open for sit-down service under strict guidelines. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are excluded from the first phase of DeSantis' plan, but it won't be long before southeast Florida begins to lift restrictions on restaurants, allowing them to welcome patrons into their dining rooms and outdoor areas once again.

When that happens, local restaurateurs know they'll be held to strict limitations on seating capacity, physical distancing, and sanitation. But beyond those constraints, the governor's plan as it's currently unfolding is open to interpretation, and the restaurant owners who are trying to plan ahead — which is to say almost all of them — don't have a lot to go on.

New Times canvassed a handful of restaurateurs, seeking their thoughts on what the future might look like. From simplified menus to augmented safety measures and equipment, here are some changes that might greet you as you sit down at your favorite spot for the first time in three months or more.

David Grutman

Swan, OTL, Papi Steak, Planta, Komodo

I'm excited about bringing the teams back in. There's going to be a lot of anxiety in the beginning, but I think what people miss most is going to restaurants and bars and nightclubs. But they also want to be responsible. It's not going to be as easy as flipping on a switch.

I think, with testing, and the hope of a vaccine, Miami will bounce back slowly. Even though we were the first ones to close our restaurants and clubs, we may not be the first ones to open. We may want to see what's going on. I think people will still wear masks for a long time, and I think the Miami kiss on the cheek will be a thing of the past.

As far as what the rest of the year will bring, I don't have a crystal ball. We're in uncharted waters, but we haven't stopped any design work or construction — I have a big investment in this community. I do know that every scientist in every country is working on this, and they are going to break the code to coronavirus.

Cindy Hutson


We will need to reinvent Ortanique. I don't think white-tablecloth dining will work any more. I don't, however, think I should change the culture of Ortanique, since it has withstood the test of time for 21 years. But I do know people will be careful with watching their money. So I will deliver consistently great food cooked with my same passion, just keeping in mind that it has to be affordable.

Niven Patel

Ghee Indian Kitchen, Erba

I've been doing brainstorming with our teams on how things are going to look when we get on the other side of all this. We don't know all the guidelines, but probably operating at 50 percent of capacity is in the realm of what's going to happen.

Pivoting to a more takeout-and-delivery business model is going to be vital for businesses to survive. People are not going to even be wanting to hold menus, so we have internet solutions in place so people can order from their smartphones. We're thinking about all these things on a daily basis.

Having our farm helped tremendously, because we have such an abundance of everything. The main problem is: How do we harvest it all and get it on the menu?

Otto Othman


My first and foremost responsibility is to protect my team and protect my guests. We closed our dining room even before the emergency order. We have eight South Florida brick-and-mortar locations that employ about 180 people. Nobody got a pay cut. We created a group chat and we pivoted and changed. We placed orders for thermometers and conduct wellness checks for anyone who walks in the doors.

It's like a movie. You walk into work and you have to wear a mask. We conduct sanitation drills every 30 minutes, where everyone has to remove their gloves, wash their hands, and sanitize every portion of the restaurant. I don't see that going away.

When the open order is announced, we sort of want to hold back and slowly open up, because the number-one thing is my team's wellness. We're going to remove tables. We're most likely not going to allow people to get their own sodas and condiments. Coronavirus has pushed us to adopt new trends, like online ordering. You'll place an order and every table can have a QR code so we'll know where to deliver your food — which is actually a much better experience than waiting in line at a fast-casual restaurant.

Scott Linquist

Coyo Taco

We had a built-in good percentage of delivery and takeout orders, so we were built for speed in that category. We have ten locations in total (five in South Florida), and we're just trying to get from point A to point B and try to figure out what happens when we open up again. We can't do the volume we did before and we can't pack people into our back bar. How do you socially distance people in a 1,200-square-foot bar? Seating has always been tight and the lines to order are tight.

For now, we're looking into opening the back bars as additional dining-room seating areas. Obviously, we'll have marks on the sidewalk to keep people apart and we'll continue washing, sanitizing, and using facemasks and gloves. We now have packaged salsa instead of the salsa bar.

I think opening will be a gradual push, but I think it's going to be sooner rather than later. I think healthy people are willing to go to work. Obviously, we want to make sure we don't infect people and we do this wisely, but if our economy goes down the drain, we're lost.

Michael Beltran

Ariete, Chug's Diner

Right now, we plan to open as soon as we're given the go-ahead, but we don't want to pre-plan too much, since we really don't know the guidelines that are going to be announced.

We are assuming we're going to operate at 25 percent capacity, with outdoor seating six feet apart. We'll have a condensed menu and different operating hours. We're trying to work with what we see as a trend around the nation, but nothing is certain right now.

We still believe in food as being an experience, though. I totally believe that one day, things can go back to normal, but if people try to be impatient with reopening, it's going to backfire. It's not like anyone has a blueprint of what's to come. This has never happened before. I do know that no restaurant can survive under these circumstances for long. Right now, we're fortunate enough that people support us and they like our creative aspects. It's giving people an inkling of normalcy.

Peter Vauthy

Red South Beach, Red Pinecrest

I just had a meeting with what's left of my staff on what Red is doing in preparation for our opening. We have installed HEPA filters and ordered touchless hand-sanitizer stations for the restaurant entrance. We are, at least for now, going to to to paper one-use menus so there's no chance of cross-contamination. We have planned for social distancing in the dining room to make sore that all tables are six feet apart. That makes our dining capacity about 30 percent of what it is on a busy night. We've hired a bathroom attendant that will clean each bathroom after every use. We've ordered masks for all employees and kitchen staff will wear one-time gloves. We're going to go through thousands of gloves. It's not environmentally friendly, but it's what we have to do.

It appears that the bar will not open at the start, so our bartenders will serve tables for a while. We're going to put Plexiglas dividers between the bar booths. I ordered digital thermometers and we're going to log everyone's temperatures and send people home if they have a fever. This place is going to be as clean and sanitary as any place you've ever come across. It's the best I can do. 
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss