In late February, Rhonda and Ron Weisheit had every reason to believe that—fittingly—2020 would be a great year for Twentytwenty Grille, the Weisheits’ restaurant in Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Plaza.
Then came the coronavirus crisis. The restaurant was open as usual—and busy—on St. Patrick’s Day and then ended table service, complying with Boca Raton’s emergency declaration.
So 2020 will be a memorable year for the Weisheits. “Just not the way we imagined,” Ron said on Monday.
With today’s post, I will start to focus on how the government-ordered shutdowns are affecting local businesses and how those businesses are trying to hold on until the restrictions end. Obviously, almost no sector in Boca Raton and Delray Beach is taking a harder hit than restaurants and bars, along with hotels and motels.
In writing about Twentytwenty Grille, I don’t mean to slight all the other restaurants – family- or corporate-owned – that are facing unprecedented challenges. No two places will face the same challenges.
I chose Twentytwenty Grille because my wife and I dined there soon after the restaurant opened in January 2014 and have been back many times. So have members of our family. We’ve gotten to know Ron—the incredibly creative chef who orders the food—and Rhonda—the tireless office/operations manager—and have rooted for them to beat the odds. Sixty percent of new restaurants close in a year. Eighty percent don’t survive five years.
We heard how word of mouth and early reviews got Twentytwenty Grille through the first summer. We heard how the referrals then began coming from the Boca Raton Resort & Club and other hotels. We heard about the restaurant’s increasing buzz on social media.
Then came the crisis. What now?
The Weisheits previously had discussed whether to offer takeout service. Ron had resisted. Rhonda said, “He just felt that the food wouldn’t be the same in a container.”
Now, though, Ron had no choice. One day after the shutdown, Rhonda had found the containers and Ron had turned out the first to-go meals. Per city rules, they are available only for pickup or delivery. The new hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
As with all businesses, Twentytwenty Grille is regularly cleaning and disinfecting the premises. When I arrived to pick up an order, the server offered Purell before and after I signed the credit card receipt.
Despite Ron’s hesitation, the food is as delicious as ever. This week, the Weisheits added a menu of lower-priced vacuum-packaged meals that customers can keep in the freezer and boil when needed. “Chef Ron’s creativity,” Rhonda said in an email, “has only just begun!”
Like so many small business owners, the Weisheits had to consider their eight employees. They have had to lay off just one, and are rotating hours to give the others as much work as possible.
Still, the damage has come quickly. Ron said their revenue is about 25 percent of normal. He will change the menu as often as possible. They will promote the restaurant using what Rhonda calls “six years of emails.” If necessary, Ron might hire out as a private chef—as long as the gathering is for 10 people or fewer.
Also like many other business owners, the Weisheits are parents. Their 14- and 12-year-old daughters are “holding their own,” Ron said, being out of school and understanding their parents’ stress. They come to the restaurant sometimes. The family has been playing balloon volleyball at home every day.
The Weisheits now are thankful that, at 40 tables, they didn’t open the larger restaurant they had envisioned a decade ago. Overhead is lower. “We’ve learned a lot,” Ron said, “and now we just need to roll with it.”
We will want our favorite places in Boca Raton and Delray Beach to be there when the crisis ends, as it surely will. The best way to ensure that is to support them and all our other restaurants during the crisis. When normalcy returns, the celebration among owners and customers will be mutual.
If you own a small business and want to talk about how you’re dealing with the crisis, please email me at email@example.com
Are you essential?
Many businesses also have wanted to know whether a city considers them “essential” and thus able to stay open. Dental offices, for example, must close to all but emergency services.
In general, though, the rule is that if a business is not listed as non-essential and can observe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines—gatherings of 10 fewer, six feet of social distancing—it can stay open.
A spokeswoman said Boca Raton got a lot of calls on Tuesday when the city added nail and hair salons and tattoo and massage parlors to the list of non-essential businesses. They were not covered by the earlier city order that applied to restaurants or the governor’s order that applied to movie theaters and other venues with large gatherings.
For the most part, businesses are complying. Those with few employees have found ways to work remotely and adjust meetings with customers. “They’re getting creative,” the spokeswoman said. Police are enforcing the restrictions, with the first violation drawing only a warning.
And the hospital?
No business in Boca Raton may be more essential now than Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Given all the horror stories internationally and in the United States about patient surges, I had asked how much space the hospital has in its intensive care unit. The hospital provided this response.
“We are prepared to care for COVID-19 patients at all our Baptist Health hospitals. (Miami-Dade County-based Baptist Health South Florida is Boca Regional’s parent company.) We have ICU capacity at Boca Regional as well as throughout our system, and have plans to expand our capacity if the need arises.
“As an organization, we will continue to work with state and local leaders and health officials to care for our community through this challenging time.”
Golf goes next
On Wednesday, Palm Beach County ordered the closing of all public and private golf courses. Boca Raton already had closed the city’s course. Delray Beach’s website did not list the municipal course as closed.
Because the Cinemark Theater in Boca Raton is closed indefinitely, it is thinking longer-term. The company is running email promotions for such films as “Top Gun: Maverick,” which premieres in June, and “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” which premieres in August.
Casa D’Angelo gives back
According to a news release, the Casa D’Angelo/Angelo Elia restaurants will donate all money from gift card sales to the company’s employees.
Buyers also will get a 20 percent discount on the cards. They are available at the company’s eight restaurants, including Casa D’Angelo in Boca Raton and Angelo Elia Pizza in West Delray.
Despite the justified focus on for-profit businesses, virus-related closing also have affected charitable non-profits. Economic uncertainty could cause a dramatic drop in donations.
The Boca West Children’s Foundation announced this week that it would distribute $800,000 to local at-risk children and agencies that serve them. The first donations went to Place of Hope, JAFCO, SOS Children’s Villages, the Florence Fuller Child Development Center, the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and the Faulk Center for Counseling. Other grants will follow.
In a news release, Chairman Arthur Adler said, “One of the difficulties the current crisis creates for these charities, is they are being forced to cancel fundraising events planned to raise everyday-needed funds to care for kids.” The foundation raised the money at a March 1 gala in Adler’s honor.
According the release, the foundation has raised more than $9 million over the last decade for 25 charities.
Wayne Barton Center’s meals for kids
The Wayne Barton Study Center in Boca Raton, in conjunction with Temple Beth El and Signature Gives Back, has been offering pickup meals for children who otherwise would be getting free or reduced-price lunches in school. The service will continue through Friday, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., at 269 NE 14th Street.