North Florida Restaurateur Enlists the Community To Survive – and Feed Those in Need
I am reminded of the scene in the movie “Castaway,” where after many years stranded on a deserted island, Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland, decides to survive, or die trying. Before the fateful journey that led him to the island and years of solitude, desperation, and soul-searching, Chuck had led a successful, but perhaps unexamined life. He had taken for granted the things that enriched his life such as love, friendship, and the conveniences of a modern world. It was only after surviving and his return to a life he had left behind, that he truly appreciated what mattered to him and embarked on a new journey filled with hope, uncertainty, and promise. This sentiment embodies the current life of a restauranteur and, I am sure, many thousands of entrepreneurs across the country.
Covid-19 has taken its toll on many industries and has shown no mercy for the restaurant business. We have seen our dining rooms restricted to 10%, shut down completely, brought back to 25%, and now 50% capacity. Albeit temporarily, we had to furlough much of our office staff as well as much of our service staff because of a lack of in-house guests. We helped our employees get set up on unemployment, which proved a difficult and frustrating task. Many of our furloughed employees did not receive a check for 6 weeks. We reached out to our partners, vendors, and manufacturers to see if they could offer food donations to support our employees who were out of work. The outpouring of generosity was awe-inspiring and confirmed the goodness of so many people we get to work with every day. Our partners at the Jacksonville sports teams (Jaguars, Jumbo Shrimp, and Icemen), Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida, and local radio stations all put out media on our behalf helping to promote our take-out and delivery business during our time of need.
Serving on the board of Feeding Northeast Florida, it became apparent to me that there was a dire need to feed the seniors in our community who were at risk and unable to leave their homes. They were food insecure and had no way of being provided with healthy meals. We were able to create Project Share and, through the generosity of organizations like the Chartrand Foundation, VyStar Credit Union, The Insetta Family, and many others, grants were procured to deliver food from the Food Bank to local restaurants. That food was turned into tens of thousands of healthy meals for seniors, at-risk children, and many others. Many restaurant employees were able to come back to work and receive a paycheck while producing literally life-saving meals for those in need. The soul and purpose of this project lifted our employees’ spirits during an otherwise stressful and anxiety-laden time.
The health and wellness of our customers and staff are paramount, and we have taken as many precautions as we can to ensure a safe and clean workplace. Because of a lack of professional guidelines in many of the states where we have restaurants, we came up with our own protocols for safety. We take the temperature of every employee as they arrive for work, we mandate masks and gloves, use disposable menus only, increased cleaning frequency of the dining room, installed plexiglass partitions, and instituted mandatory protocols in the event we had an employee show symptoms or test positive.
The restaurant experience is based exclusively on hospitality and making guests feel welcome while providing them with the best culinary experience we are capable of. Shared ownership develops when guests talk about a restaurant as if it’s theirs. They cannot wait to share it with friends, and what they’re really sharing, beyond the culinary experience, is the experience of feeling important and loved.
All these protocols have made it difficult and awkward to achieve our normal expectation of hospitality, but we are certainly striving to do our best every day under the circumstances. Our online ordering and third-party delivery have been the lifeline we’ve counted on for the past few months. We are fortunate in that we have been set up for many years on these platforms and that our staff has vast training in making that an outstanding experience for our customers.
Our food travels very well, making it an attractive option for those who have grown accustomed to take-out and delivery as their “restaurant experience.” We continue to innovate with better packaging, new menu offerings, and a new design prototype we hope to unveil in 2021. We feel that with the “new normal” in the restaurant industry, these trends will continue to dominate for years to come.
Thanks to the loyal and continued support of our customers, Bono’s will survive this strange and unusual time. We believe that we are never lost if we can find each other. Just like Chuck in “Castaway,” whenever we come out the other side of this time in our lives we will do so with a renewed perspective. We will appreciate all our many good fortunes and give no thought to the mindless minutiae that unconsciously consumed us before.
We are determined to live an intentional life. We are here to truly live, not surrender. To embrace meaning. To love unconditionally. To give without expectation. To participate, not watch. To create, not copy. To be unapologetically who we are. To rise up, and help others rise.
I believe that this moment seeds every moment. Vulnerability is a virtue. Presence beats presents. Compassion is a gateway to connection. Life is a co-creative process. With rare exception, everything is better when it is shared. The best way to cope with loss is to treasure what you have right in front of you.
These things I know. These things, on my best days, I aspire to live. We are now and always will be a work in progress. In other words, we are human. What happens next is up to all of us. I believe we are ready.
Josh Martino is President of Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q (“Real Pit Barbecue Since 1949”).
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