Coronavirus

Miami Restaurant Industry Plans Protest Against New Dining-Room Closure Order

Restaurant owners gather to organize this Friday's protest in downtown Miami.
Restaurant owners gather to organize this Friday's protest in downtown Miami. Photo by Nick Sharp
click to enlarge Restaurant owners gather to organize this Friday's protest in downtown Miami. - PHOTO BY NICK SHARP
Restaurant owners gather to organize this Friday's protest in downtown Miami.
Photo by Nick Sharp
Frustrated at Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez's recent emergency order shutting down indoor restaurant dining rooms for the second time since March, a group of local restaurateurs will voice their displeasure at a socially distanced public protest outside the American Airlines Arena on Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — during what in normal times would be a lively lunch service.

The mayor's order, which took effect today, permits restaurants to offer outdoor seating from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and continues to allow takeout and delivery service.

The restaurateurs claim their industry is being singled out, noting that gyms, pools, beaches, hair salons, and retail establishments continue to operate.

"The reality is that the mayor is using restaurants as a scapegoat. He's targeting small and medium-sized businesses to shut down," says Aniece Meinhold, a partner at Phuc Yea, a Vietnamese-Cajun hybrid in Miami's MiMo neighborhood.

Nick Sharp, who along with his wife Teresa owns local mini-chain Threefold Café, says the timing of the protest isn't a coincidence.

"What if all the privately owned restaurants in the Miami area walked off the job for lunch on Friday?" he says, adding that he's not asking restaurateurs to close on Friday, only that they stand up and be counted. "We're trying to get all the people who feel they're not being heard — including staff, our suppliers, public-relations people, and our patrons. We're trying to get everyone together to rally for the restaurant community in a simple, non-extreme kind of way."

Sharp is among a group of restaurant owners that sent a letter to Gimenez's office yesterday, asking the mayor to reconsider the new ban on indoor dining or, at the very least, to give restaurateurs time to ease into outdoor service.

"I'm not a COVID expert, but everywhere I've seen people trying to comply with the mayor's 'New Normal' guidelines," Sharp says. "I'm not arguing whether we get shut down or not. It's how we do it. Forty-eight hours is not enough for the industry to react."

So far, Gimenez has not responded.

Sharp has heard from the restaurant community, however. "We've had restaurant owners calling and texting," he says. "They're scared for their business."

Sharp is careful to point out that his group doesn't speak for the entire local hospitality industry. They just want to present a united front to demand scientific, quantifiable proof that eating in restaurants has contributed to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases.

Specifically, Sharp questions how closing dining rooms will have an impact when other businesses remain open.

"We flattened the curve with a full-on stay-at-home order," he says. "Now people can go to pools and gyms. How long is it going to take for the rate of new cases to drop when everyone's out?"

The restaurant group also seeks clarity on the county's future plans for the industry, as well as better communication between the government bodies and the community. 

"There's a lot of talk about 'a seat at the table,'" Sharp says. "The restaurant industry is trying to comply. We've invested money and sacrificed revenue to do the right thing when we were asked."
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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