Food News

With Zika Confirmed in Miami Beach, Restaurants Brace for the Worst

It's official. The Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in newborns, has taken its reprehensible talents to South Beach. 

Thursday afternoon, Gov. Rick Scott announced five cases of locally transmitted Zika in Miami Beach, and the city's so-called Zika zone stretches from the bay to the ocean between Eighth and 28th Streets. Shortly after Scott's news conference, in which he refused to tell reporters when the first case on the island was transmitted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning advising women against visiting Miami Beach. And many of the countless restaurants in the area are bracing  for the worst. 

"We have repellant for everybody, we have candles outside, and we plan to take care of our customers as always," Pubbelly Group executive chef Jose Mendin says. Reservation books are full for this weekend, though some parties have asked to sit inside. 

Beyond that, it seems there's little restaurants can do other than hold tight and see how things play out. Many fear a blowback similar to what Wynwood businesses saw after the neighborhood became the first place in the United States to report locally transmitted Zika. "During the first weeks of this crisis, business was down 50 to 60 percent," says Joseph Furst, who chairs the Wynwood Business Improvement District. 

If the same were to happen on the Beach, it could be akin to knockout combo, because many restaurants already tighten their operations as business ebbs during the slow summer months. 

"I have friends that have restaurants [in Wynwood], and they said how much business changed," says Macchialina Taverna Rustica chef and owner Michael Pirolo. "Everybody‚Äôs bracing for it."

But beyond arming themselves with some mosquito repellent, Pirolo and Mendin seemed stumped as to what they could do. The city has ramped up spraying and Mayor Philip Levine during a Thursday night press conference said the water and sewer department has even gone as far as dropping bug repellant into stormwater drains. Other than that it seems the best bet is hope. 

"We don't want to carry this all the way through Art Basel," Mendin said.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson