Palm Beach restaurants struggle as coronavirus continues to spread

Juno Beach in Palm Beach County, where nearby restaurants that usually attract beachgoers remain closed as the coronavirus pandemic continues. (Pablo Alvarez/South Florida Media Network)

Lazy Loggerhead Café, situated inside Palm Beach County’s Carlin Park near Juno Beach, closed its doors on March 19. That was one day before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide order ending on-premises dining. Jennifer Wilson, who owns the cafe with her husband Brian “Duke” Wilson, said they closed to keep customers and employees safe.

“Our elderly customers were coming in and not being safe and not wearing protective gear,” she said. “We were nervous and concerned about the health of the employees, so we erred on the side of caution.”

In Juno Beach and Jupiter, where full-time residents and snowbirds usually enjoy the sun and sand, restaurants like the Loggerhead have seen their business suffer amid the global pandemic.

With establishments limited to serving customers via delivery and takeout, Uber Eats and DoorDash have seen an uptick in orders, but it’s not enough to sustain the industry.

There are more than 40,000 eating establishments in Florida, with over 5,000 of them in Palm Beach County, according to the National Restaurant Organization. The shutdown has put almost 1.1 million Florida foodservice jobs at risk, with 9% of those jobs situated in Palm Beach County.

Thirsty Turtle Seagrill is a family-operated restaurant in Jupiter, about 10 minutes south of the Lazy Loggerhead. Before the shutdown, it was popular with Jupiter residents for fresh fish and chicken wings. Now it continues to operate via takeout and delivery businesses, although reduced revenues have forced changes. What was once 168 employees spread between three different locations is now down to 30 as management works to find a way not to shutter altogether.

“Everybody in here is depressed,” said Daniel Llewis, a manager at the Juno Beach location. Llewis said the restaurant is running low on money, despite a good number of people still buying food.

Llewis said takeout typically amounts to only 10% of normal business. “I would give it maybe another month or so before we would have to shut down, but we’ll stick it out as long as we can,” he added.

Other establishments have not been as fortunate.

At Lazy Loggerhead, Wilson gave all the extra food to her employees after closing.

Because Lazy Loggerhead is located inside a public park, which has been closed, the cafe cannot offer delivery or takeout. Wilson said this time of year typically brings in many customers. They are now applying for loans to keep the business afloat until the world returns to normal.

“We’re not people that can work from home,” said Wilson. “We miss doing what we do every day. It’s a labor of love — it’s passion.”

When Wilson spoke to her customers before closing, she found they shared a similar sentiment — a yearning to be with family and friends again.

“We have a super unique beach community, but everyone is experiencing this,” said Wilson. “Whether you’re in a big city or a small town like ours, it’s hard not to be able to walk out and say hello and hug your family.”

Pablo Alvarez, a Cuban and Puerto Rican American, has interest in writing anything and everything regarding politics, the environment, community stories and much more. He wants to write groundbreaking stories that matter to readers and have an impact on them.