Restaurants Rally to Protest Closures

A coalition of restaurant owners, first organized on Giralda Plaza, oppose the latest shutdown

It seems only fitting that the opposition to Miami-Dade’s latest restrictions on dining finds its epicenter in Coral Gables, the long-acknowledged home to a concentration of the area’s finest restaurants.

When County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced on July 6 that all restaurants in Miami-Dade be again closed to thwart the spread of COVID-19, the pushback was immediate. The owners of more than 40 restaurants, connected via social media, assembled on Giralda Plaza to decide their response. Led by Nick Sharp of ThreeFold Café, Steve Bradley of Clutch Burger and Ani Meinhold of Phuc Yea (in North Miami), and dubbing themselves the “Support Our Local Restaurants” group, they drafted a detailed letter to Mayor Gimenez.

“The entire restaurant industry cannot be held accountable for the rise in coronavirus cases without concrete proof that coronavirus is highly transmittable in a restaurant setting,” the letter stated, noting that beaches, pools and large retail stores were permitted to remain open. The letter requested that the county develop a comprehensive plan to combat the virus, and that the hospitality industry be involved and informed ahead of time regarding any decisions.

Restaurants Rally to protest
Protesters Rally Against Restaurant Closings in Front of American Airlines Arena.

Mayor Gimenez issued his shutdown orders just three weeks after restaurants – closed for almost three months – were permitted to resume business with 50 percent capacity of indoor seating, social distancing, and mask wearing upon entering and exiting the premises. He also ordered that all gyms be closed. 

In response to the pushback, Mayor Gimenez then announced that outdoor seating would be allowed for restaurants, along with takeout and delivery, and that gyms could stay open if masks were worn during workouts. While that reduced the severity of the latest shutdown (Coral Gables has more than four dozen restaurants with outdoor dining options), the closure of indoor seating was a major blow to the industry, just starting to recover. Indeed, many restaurants were stuck with large quantities of now worthless perishable foods, ordered when restaurants reopened; they must also again furlough employees who just returned to work.

The Mayors Coalition of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities agreed with Sharp, and within 72 hours of the county order issued a resolution unanimously endorsed by 25 mayors, including Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli. The resolution requested that “future decisions be made based on scientific data,” and that “mayors and industry leaders should be consulted.” 

By the end of last week, with no relief in the offing, Sharp and Meinhold organized a rally in front of American Airlines Arena to publicize their grievances. About 70 protestors, mostly restaurant owners and staff, gathered under Friday’s blazing midday sun to show their disapproval and dismay at the order they say could permanently shutter many independent eateries. One restaurant owner after the next picked up the bull horn to plead with Mayor Gimenez not to put them out of business, declaring they could not survive on takeout orders alone. 

“Our leases are not made for takeout and delivery. Our leases are based on the square footage of the inside,” said the owner of the Latin House Grill. “If I tell my landlord I am only doing 10 percent of my business, he does not care.”

For the moment, however, Mayor Gimenez is not planning to back down. According to his office, the order to close indoor dining will not be lifted until the percentage of coronavirus tests showing positive results falls to five percent. As of this week, that number was still at more than 11 percent.