WEST VILLAGES — The timing of the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have been worse for local restaurateurs who’d been aiming for a spring or summer launch.
From Big Bamboo and The Twisted Fork on El Jobean Road to Smugglers Tiki Bar on Duncan, progress everywhere is at a standstill.
Venice’s Tommy Villani had expected no delays for his West Villages tribute to rising above disaster.
He was optimistically putting the finishing touches on (Hurricane) Irma’s Tacos, Craft Beer & Tequila Bar when Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order came down on all Villani’s businesses.
He shuttered Off The Wagon Brewery & Kitchen in Venice.
“I would never want to open (Irma’s for takeout) in this environment,” Villani said. “Plus it would be impossible to get any inspections or licenses now.”
• • •
After a year of planning and construction, Pioneers Pizza owner Rick Barone had his second restaurant, at the former Torch Bar & Grill location in Punta Gorda, completely finished and ready to open before the end of the month.
Then the onsite dining ban came down.
“Before, my business was booming, I was busting at the seams, putting everything I had into opening a new store,” said Barone. “Now I’ve had to let go of 80% of my staff.
“I put all that money into it, built a brand-new dine-in restaurant with a full bar, and just can’t open in these times. If I opened for takeout, I’d be setting myself up for disaster. It would cost me $50,000 just to stock the place with food to get started. So, I’ll pay the rent hoping for some relief on it and keep the new place closed until it’s a good time to open.
“I have my one store now and I’m doing pretty good, considering. I just have to adapt and keep going.”
Pioneers in Port Charlotte is doing curbside takeout and delivery through Bite Squad, DoorDash, Grubhub and Slice, an online food-ordering platform for independent pizzerias.
• • •
For 16 years George Dubbaneh perfected the smokemaster’s craft at his Uncle Wael’s side, at Wally’s Southern Style BBQ in Port Charlotte. George had expected, within weeks, to open what could have become North Port’s first award-winning barbecue—the 40-seat, fast-casual Dubz BBQ—on Aidan Lane.
From the first, he didn’t want to delay opening, saying, “Any revenue is better than no revenue.” Since the governor’s order, he’s continued painting and tiling in the hope of offering takeout and delivery one day.
• • •
Todd Stolpe, head chef for both the new Pier at Fishermen’s Village and the forthcoming next-door Turtle Bay Café, reported that Turtle Bay was at a standstill, while The Pier, along with most other Fishermen’s Village restaurants, had closed its doors.
• • •
Father & Son Pizzeria co-owner Victoria Malato had already endured a rough year-and-a-half, after the restaurant’s Duncan Road strip mall in Punta Gorda underwent such heavy renovation that Father & Son was forced to close for two months.
More recently, she and fiancé Sal Sciacca were planning a move closer to downtown, to the Bermont Road Winn-Dixie plaza.
Instead, they’ve packed up for a move to North Carolina, where they plan to reopen in June, closer to family.
Chef/owner Alex King, who’d hoped to open Ken & Barb’s Grove City Kitchen in the former Blue Lagoon in mid-March, reported that at first he’d been held up more by the county than by COVID-19. He’d hoped to open by April but also had no choice in the matter.
“It’s really difficult, because you’re still paying insurance and rent,” he said. “But my biggest fear would be opening up and their putting the kibosh on even takeout and delivery. The kitchen’s all ready to go and I’m dying to start cooking, but I don’t think that would be the best move.”
• • •
David Valentino, on the verge of opening his family’s third Bocca Lupo Coal Fired Pizza, in West Villages Marketplace, is also putting work on pause, he said in a wry statement.
“I think the best expression I can use is ... we are not rushing the opening,” he said.