The Thirty-A Review July 2020

f e a t u r e

Six Feet at the Beach b y J u l i e H e r r o n C a r s o n

Bud & Alley’s: Boiled Shrimp

When I opened the doors on May 7, you wouldn’t believe all the smiles. Social distancing kept us from hugging hello, but didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

T he many excellent dining options in the area are a key component of the 30-A experience. Families and friends flock to favorite watering holes to celebrate milestones, and vacationers love to return to “their” special restaurant year after year. In an industry where longevity is an exception rather than the rule, a number of local restaurateurs have enjoyed years of success by combining warm hospitality, consistent high quality, outstanding service; and plain, old-fashioned hard work. But 2020 is a year like no other, and local restaurant owners and staff have had to quickly adapt and innovate to safely prepare food and serve their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. During March and April, some restaurants temporarily closed, while others offered take-out service only. In early May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order allowing restaurants to re-open under Phase I Guidelines, and expanded those guidelines a couple of weeks later. However, Seaside’s founders and leadership took a more cautious approach, closing all commercial businesses in mid-March with an announced reopening of May 29. While the loss of business was unexpected and unwelcome, 30-A restaurant owners immediately began figuring out how to safely take care of customers and staff in the short term, while preparing to later welcome back patrons. “We began putting safety protocols in place immediately, so we would be ready to reopen for in- house dining when the restrictions were lifted,” says Nikki Nickerson, who owns Cowgirl Kitchen Restaurant & Bar and CK Feed & Supply Provisions & Gifts in Rosemary Beach, Cowgirl Kitchen Market & Café in Seagrove Beach, and Blue Mabel Smokehouse & Provisions in Blue Mountain Beach. “I made the decision early on that our restaurants would remain open for curbside meals to go, and we created to facilitate ordering. Not only was I concerned about keeping my staff employed, but I wanted to offer some comfort to area residents with delicious, home-made food they could enjoy at home.

“All of our locations are fami- ly friendly, with reasonably priced menu options and retail-driven wine and signature cocktails. The contactless payments and safe ways to get food proved to be valuable to so many people who just don’t enjoy cooking everyday. A lot of people were very happy we were open, and I am so grateful

The Great Southern Café: Crab Cakes and Fried Green Tomatoes

to our regular customers who made it a point to order from our restaurants once or twice a week. They lifted our spirits, kept us connected, and enabled me to keep over half of my regular staff employed. We’ve increased our outdoor seating at all three restaurants and are excit- ed to welcome everyone back. We are fully staffed again, and are keeping the shelves at all locations fully stocked with provisions and food to go.”, Danny and Monica Cosenzi, owners of Rosemary Beach’s fine dining destination Restaurant Paradis, developed another creative solution. “We made the decision not to offer take-out here in Rosemary Beach. Instead, we offered local delivery from our sister restaurant, Back Beach Barbecue in Panama City Beach,” says Danny Cosenzi. “While the restaurant was closed, we stayed connected to our customers via social media, inviting them to send us photos and videos so we could all stay in touch. We even hosted a virtual celebration in late March for the 11th Anniversary of Restaurant Paradis. “Monica and I want to thank everyone who reached out to us, purchased gift cards, and called to make sure our staff was doing OK. Their love and support were absolutely amazing. We were more than ready to reopen for dinner when the guidelines lifted, and our award- winning chef, Mark Eichin, has created three new entrees to kick off the season. When I opened the doors on May 7, you wouldn’t believe all the smiles. Social distanc-

ing kept us from hugging hello, but didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.” Just up the road, Christy Spell Terry, owner of George’s at Alys Beach, is thankful her restaurant group had already begun working on a new online app for ordering and payment prior to the pandemic. “When we saw what was happening, our restaurant group escalated the process to create the Heartland Guest app so we would have options for touchless customer interaction,” says Terry. “From a strictly business point of view, it would have made the most sense to close the restaurant, but we knew our employees and many of our customers wanted and needed us to stay open. The new app was a big help as we focused on takeout service and limiting

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