Biggest struggle up to this point: “Over our 115 years, there’s a lot really: Spanish flu. World wars. Prohibition. The Great Depression. The Great Recession,” says Richard Gonzmart, the Columbia’s fourth-generation owner. “As the oldest restaurant in Florida, we’ve experienced quite a bit. At each crisis, we chose to invest in our people and our properties, and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now.”
How they’re coping with COVID-19: On March 20, the Columbia Restaurant Group (which also includes Ulele and Goody Goody, among other Bay-area eateries) furloughed 90% of its workforce and closed its restaurants. The group sold gift cards on its website, with all proceeds benefiting the Columbia Restaurant Group Employee Assistance Fund. Company president Richard Gonzmart is also forgoing his salary and has returned his 2019 ownership check. On May 1, Goody Goody reopened for to-go service.
Words of wisdom: “Our job right now is to give help and hope,” Gonzmart says. “We have to show our team that we care about them, or why should they care about us? We also have to be good stewards of the company so there’s a business for them to come back to.”
Biggest struggle up to this point: The bakery is used to challenges, having survived the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and the Great Depression within the first two decades of operation.
How they’re coping with COVID-19: Alessi pivoted to curbside takeout and delivery of baked goods, sandwiches and family style meals after closing the dining room. Their team even tried to bring a bit of levity to the trying times by getting creative with their cookie and cake decorating. In late March, they debuted toilet paper cakes and cookies topped with the logos of various cleaning products.
Words of wisdom: “We’re up to any challenge, at the end of the day. We have a can-do attitude, so we’re going to have to adjust, but there’s a challenge every day. It’s just a matter of what you do with that challenge,” fourth-generation owner Phil Alessi Jr. told TAMPA Magazine in a 2018 interview. “[Think to yourself] what is the next best thing to do? And do it. Use good judgment and follow through.”
Biggest struggle up to this point: After more than a century in business, fourth-generation owner Copeland More and his forefathers have gotten through some of the country’s most challenging times. As he puts it, the bakery business is more or less “recession-proof.” “People need to buy bread and eat sandwiches,” More says. “But this, where restaurants can’t operate at capacity, is a major swing for us.”
How they’re coping with COVID-19: Despite furloughing some of its employees, the bakery has continued offering takeout and delivery of its famous breads, pastries and sandwiches and has introduced online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery. “It’s been like learning a new business every day with information from the government and CDC and feedback from our customers,” says More. As La Segunda supplies bread to restaurants all over the country, the most significant impacts have been felt in the bakery’s wholesale business. More estimates that segment is down about 90% since the pandemic began.
Words of wisdom: More says his team is using this period to tackle some of the tasks they’d never normally have time to address. “One way or another, we’re going to grind through and survive,” he adds. “I’d like to come out stronger than [we were] when we went in.”
Biggest struggle up to this point: Adapting to survive is part of the Bern’s lore. Original owners Bern and Gert Laxer bought a small luncheonette when their plans to open an ice cream parlor downtown didn’t pan out. Then, after opening Bern’s in the former Beer Haven bar, they were forced to become a restaurant — not solely a bar, as planned — when they learned the man who sold them the property had done so without permission from the landlord. He did not approve of alcohol sales and threatened to cancel the lease without a shift in business focus. The rest is Tampa foodie history.
How they’re coping with COVID-19: The restaurant donated $10,000 to a digital tip jar supporting employees of Bern’s and its sister properties that have been laid off. Bern’s also began offering takeout for the first time ever, directing $2 from the sale of each one of its cult classic steak sandwiches to the tip jar and matching those funds up to an additional $10,000. On May 4, its sister restaurant Haven reopened at 25% capacity.
Biggest struggle up to this point: Wright’s owner Jeff Mount (who purchased the business from his grandparents in 1981) says it was a challenge to stay open during the large-scale renovation the eatery underwent a few years back. What Mount calls a “logistical monster” went from a 10 or 11-month project to an 18-month endeavor. “My staff was the reason we pulled it off,” Mount says. “They persevered and improvised and worked day and night to maintain our safety and sanitation standards while preparing great food and offering friendly service. It was an impressive feat.”
How they’re coping with COVID-19: Mount says Wright’s is doing “quite well,” supplementing their takeout business by donating meals for senior citizens and at-risk teens. “After some heartburn over whether we should furlough staff, I decided not to do so. I couldn’t do it. I thought that I owed the Wright’s Gourmet House owner Jeff Mount credits his family, friends and staff for providing support and encouragement. They’ve quickly gotten on board with Mount’s philosophy of giving what they can by donating meals to people in need. “We are into the solution of seeing what we can add rather than what we can take out of [a situation],” Mount says. “Works every time.” folks who got us where we are more than that,” Mount says. The team filled the slow first few weeks with cross-training and other long put-off projects before beginning their charitable efforts. “That has gotten us out of ourselves and our small worries.”
Words of wisdom: “Be calm, poised, confident. The people around me need to see it,” Mount says. “Early on I told my staff, ‘I’ve never seen a situation that I thought panicking would make it better.’ I encouraged them to trust that we would take care of them, help them, look out for them. Almost everyone has trusted us and stayed with us. “I believe that I was called to this moment — am I going to rise to the occasion?” he adds. “I believe that all my life has prepared me for today. And I believe that’s true for all of us.”