Tampa restaurant holds off on changes as Florida enters Phase Three

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – On the first night of Florida’s Phase Three of reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, customers didn’t notice anything different at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café.

“We have socially distanced all the tables on the inside and out,” owner Melissa Deming said. “We didn’t want to increase our capacity. We didn’t want to not require customers to wear masks.”

Since the Seminole Heights restaurant reopened at a limited capacity, Deming said most of her 37 employees who lost their jobs in the spring are back to work.

“It’s definitely been a hit through this whole thing,” she said, “but we would prefer to have things calm and in control.”

While in St. Petersburg Friday afternoon, Governor Ron DeSantis made the case for moving Florida into Phase Three hours before signing this executive order.

“There will not be limitations from the state of Florida,” Gov. DeSantis said. “In fact, we’re also cognizant about the need for business certainty.”

According to the governor, Florida is the “most open” of the country’s big states.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” he said.

The governor’s latest executive order guarantees all restaurants the right to operate at a minimum of 50 percent capacity. If a county tries to limit restaurants to less than 100 percent, they must provide a justification.

“The order does allow for some level of local control to remain in place, but it restricts the amount of authority local officials can impose,” Tampa Attorney Richard Blau said.

Blau told 8 On Your Side Florida bars and restaurants should proceed with caution because “this contagion is far from gone.”

Deming said she is concerned it will be harder to enforce a mask requirement in her business because a section of the governor’s order “suspends all outstanding fines and penalties, and the collection of such moving forward, applied to individuals related to COVID-19.”  

City and county leaders on both sides of the bay are having their attorneys review what the governor’s new executive order means for their local coronavirus rules.

Blau explained that business owners have right to require that customers continue wearing masks.  

“Every individual bar owner, every individual restauranteur, every individual business operator can say in my establishment, no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service,” Blau said.

Deming said protecting her staff and customers remains her priority during the pandemic.

“I understand people want to get open, but I think we shouldn’t give everyone a false sense of security,” she said.

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