The State of Gainesville Restaurants: In Their Own Words PART II


We're almost six months into this pandemic with only hopes that there's an end in sight. While I've spoken out numerous times over the last few months about the need to support our local restaurants, old favorites closing, and new faces popping up...I thought it best to let 10 local restaurant owners share their thoughts in their own words. From food trucks to more upscale fare, counter service to sit-down, and from longtime stalwarts to opening during the height of the pandemic...this is what they're seeing first-hand. This is Part II of a two-part article. Please click here to read Part I.

(In alphabetical order by restaurant name)

Carolyn, Mike, Luke Vescovi - Owners Luke's New York Bagels

Opening up during Covid was a huge risk. Opening up a bagel shop was a huge risk. A lot of articles have portrayed me as an all-star golden child when in reality it’s far from the truth. This is my chance to set the record straight.

Let’s take it all the way back; I’m a graduate student at UF studying my Masters of Science in management. I graduated Pre-Med from UF in Spring of 2020 but nobody really cares about that. What’s really important to me is the fact that my parents finally get the recognition they deserve. They get cut out of every single article written about us because my name is the one on the building. They were school teachers who grew up, worked, and lived in the same town in New Jersey their entire lives. They built a house and raised me in it until I was a sophomore at UF. I convinced them to sell my childhood home to buy a house in Gainesville so that I could get in-state tuition and it would be easier for me to get into med-school. A year later I came to them with an idea of opening a bagel shop in my college town. I asked my parents if they were willing to take the risk with me this could really be something that worked...and they did. After perfecting our craft for 2 years and being told that this business would never work, we invested in the small hole-in-the-wall shop we're in now.

We began selling out of Halo Potato Donuts after some friends had connected Drew’s family and my family. We owe Halo the world because without them we would’ve never gotten the feedback and the confidence to get off the ground. When we opened up in March, one week after quarantine had begun, it was a scary time. With a limited menu of just bagels and cream cheese, we sold out our first day. Then our second day. The day after that... And after that. We knew we were onto something. As the pandemic continued, we taped arrows and X's six feet apart on the ground to control the flow of traffic. We have a pay and order window and a pick up window for one way traffic to keep people moving in and out. Right now, we're take-out only and it seems like that's how we are going to continue to operate until further notice. It has and continues to be a learning experience on how we can adjust. Our customers have been very understanding and provided us with tremendous feedback, which we've taken to heart. It seems like we've made it through the trenches thus far...from turning our sink on with a wrench, to hand-rolling bagels for 12 hours, to baking at 11 PM all the way until 11 AM. Now we’re here and still have a long way to go.

I work in there every single day, yes that’s true. But with me all the way is my family, which includes my parents who work their asses off everyday to see the shop succeed, and my brother... who nobody knows was in there rolling, baking, and upgrading the shop without ever taking a dime from us. You'll probably see him (Jake) joking around every now and again. Without my family I would've never gotten on my feet.Pair that with an all-star staff and you have yourself a business. Thank you Halo Potato Donuts, Florida Capital Bank, and most of all my parents Carolyn and Mike for rolling the dice on me... One day we will all celebrate together. Oh...and our staff works 12 hours days to make bagels, so be gentle on them because they’re awesome.

TJ Palmieri - Owner

Madrina's

To say the past several months have been incredibly challenging would be an oversimplification of the highest magnitude. There have been some small victories that, given the circumstances, felt monumental but by and large we’ve been like a boxer trapped in a corner, desperately waiting for the round to end and for a minute of relief.

As a very small bar that does not serve food but does take health and safety precautions seriously it’s been tough to watch restaurants, pool halls and even Disney be allowed to open. All the while we’ve been relegated to doing to-go sales, which have declined sharply in recent weeks. It doesn’t seem logical or fair to be lumped in with a 10,000 ft.² night club but here we are.

It’s frustrating but we’re doing what we can and I have no doubt in my mind that Madrina’s will survive this. We are already planning for the 2020 version of Miracle - whatever that looks like I can assure you it will be memorable and immersive as in years past. Beyond that we’re working on some really cool things for 2021 including a new menu and a series of takeovers similar to what we did with our friends from Pearl Diver a while back.

Jason Hurst - Owner

Maple Street Biscuit Company (Butler & Tioga)

This has been a very trying time for Maple Street and the rest of the restaurant community. We have personally taken the stance to rally around our employees, but also rally around other restaurants to make sure that they stay in business. We have joined a restaurant co-op created by Gift Certificates & More to help market ourselves along with other restaurants in the area. The co-op is aimed toward expanding the reach of our marketing efforts by pooling together our monetary resources and leveraging our buying power with various media outlets.

Our mission at Maple Street is to help people serve others and be a part of the community so we have definitely stepped up in that arena as well. During the height of the COVID shutdown, we instituted the “Biscuit for Heroes” program which afforded corporate and private sector, as well as anonymous donors, an opportunity to send meals as gifts to first responders and frontline healthcare workers from our Maple Street kitchens at both of our Gainesville area locations. We have opened our doors to nonprofit organization for partnership opportunities to ensure that the food needs of the people they serve are being met.

As far as our stores are concerned, we are going the extra mile to make sure everything is sanitized and social distanced according to CDC and local municipality guidelines. All of our employees are required to wear masks and gloves when serving our guests. We’ve also added additional outdoor seating to give our guests a responsible, socially-distanced experience outside of our four walls.

We definitely appreciate the continued community support during this time and will go the extra mile to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable when dining with us or ordering from the comforts of their own home. We have ramped up our online-ordering opportunities through our website as well as our delivery efforts through third-party apps such as Bite Squad, UberEats and Byppo. Also, coming this fall, we will begin offering Mimosas on our menu at both Gainesville locations to enhance our guest experience.

Antonella D'Errico - Owner Tinker Food Truck

Tinker Food Truck's goal has always been to bring a new food truck experience to the City of Gainesville, such as some "good AF" Venezuelan Street Food, an amazing vibe and the BEST customer service; we turned a boring parking lot into a place where people look forward to come to on the weekends.

Due to COVID and social distancing, the #TinkerFam experience couldn’t be offered the same way anymore. March came and we had to quickly change things up a bit, and it was a little frustrating at times. We went from taking the orders outside the food truck, giving the people a warm welcome, and Latin music in the background with outdoor seating to quickly adjusting to online orders on our website www.tinkerfoodtruck.com for delivery and curbside pick up only; it was a big change for us but it really helped us and our customers loved it. We continued to receive support in a safe and socially distanced way, which we appreciated very much. We have taken every precaution to keep our customers and our staff safe these past almost 6 months.

There was a point when we decided to temporarily close because it seemed like the right thing to do but our customers were very sad. We had never thought about how our food could make them feel happy in these tough times; it might sound silly but it’s the truth. When the pandemic started we had only been open for a few months, we considered ourselves a small food truck with big dreams! This isn’t how we pictured our first year in business but that’s okay.

COVID-19 has taught us a few things but mainly to stay positive and just keep going.

We have received so much support that we had to add 2 more members to the team, due to the high demand of online orders. Thankful for each person who has ordered from us especially in these past few months, you are the reason we are still here! LOCAL LOVE is real! We are very proud of how far we’ve come and we are confident that there’s a brighter future ahead of us!

Ben Guzick - Owner Uppercrust

Uppercrust is one of the lucky ones. Lucky is the word I’d use, too. This virus affects people and businesses indiscriminately. Many businesses are really struggling. We’ve been able to retain everyone on our team who feels comfortable working, and have even created a couple positions through the community’s support.

This said, serving others during COVID-19 takes a serious mental toll. The vast majority of our guests are respectful, considerate, and empathic. Some are not. Despite our training and preparation, it is extremely difficult to remain poised and gracious while asserting boundaries, itself a very unnatural thing to do while serving. The distress of the interaction is taxing by itself, but these episodes also derail or undermine all that we’re about. Uppercrust is a happy place. We make and serve pastries and bread! We try to make people happy. When we don’t, it’s hard not to take that personally or as a personal failing, regardless of circumstance.

The biggest and best adjustment we have made is online ordering. Nearly our full menu is available for online ordering, including curbside pickup and a delivery service staffed entirely by our team. We started online ordering during the onset of the pandemic, and have seen firsthand how helpful it is for many guests, and during holidays.

Where this pandemic is going and what long-term impacts it will have are beyond my expertise. This is a tragic time for too many. So many have already lost their jobs and livelihood. Many more will soon. Financial security is the most significant and immediate issue, but fulfillment and sense of self are at stake, too. For many who work in hospitality, making food and serving others are the best and truest means of communicating care and affection. The prospect of losing these things, or already having lost them, is deeply enervating.

As for Uppercrust, we have been and are really lucky. We have been supported by our community and team. Our concerns are often blessedly mundane - how is the texture and size of our buttercream rosettes? could we have pushed the proof a bit on the roses today? We look forward to serving guests safely during and after this pandemic, and are grateful for the privilege to do so.

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© 2020 by Ken Peng & Ken Eats, LLC. Title image courtesy of Jesse Adrian Scanlon Media.

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