Many in the Food and Beverage Industry Are Facing an Uncertain Future

'We'll make it through somehow,' says restaurateur Paul Caragiulo. 'I mean, what choice do you have?'

By Cooper Levey-Baker March 20, 2020

Sarah Lansky

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread and public gatherings have been limited or banned, many local restaurants have responded by coming up with creative new ways to offer takeout and delivery. To help those businesses share news about their offerings, Sarah Lansky, a sales representative with Masciarelli Wine Company, started a new Facebook group, Curbside SRQ. The goal was to help restaurants that have managed to stay open continue to stay open. "I did it just as a service to restaurants," Lansky says.

On Friday, Lansky got the news that has hit many others in the food and beverage industry she was trying to help. She was laid off.

Exact data on layoffs in the restaurant world caused by COVID-19 is not yet available, but experts are predicting widespread job losses in the industry.

Beginning last week, Lansky was forced to cancel a handful of tasting events because of COVID-19. She thought perhaps she might have her hours reduced or be encouraged to work from home. She wasn't expecting to lose her job. "I am completely shocked that it ended so quickly," she says.

Lansky's experience shows the domino effect that restaurant and bar losses can have. As their sales decline, it affects affiliated businesses like wineries, breweries, distilleries, food distributors and even farms.

And those who are still employed are earning less. Natalie Connett works as a server at Evie's on Bee Ridge Road. The restaurant has been staggering shifts for employees as the number of customers has decreased. Connett says she's still eager to work, but the restaurant hasn't been as busy as normal. "As of right now," she says, "I can pay for next month's rent, but if I were out of work for 30 days, I don't know how far that could take me." 

The Caragiulo family, which operates Caragiulos, Owen's Fish Camp, Veronica Fish & Oyster and others, employs between 150 and 200 people. Paul Caragiulo says the company's "first concern" is taking care of them. "We have a lot of people who have been working for us a long time," he says. "We can't just cut them loose."

The Caragiulos' restaurants have reduced their hours and focused on takeout options, but the situation is constantly changing. On Friday, the state of Florida banned all dining at restaurants. "We'll make it through somehow," Caragiulo says. "I mean, what choice do you have?"

After losing her job, Lansky plans to continue studying for an advanced wine certification through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and will continue updating the Curbside SRQ Facebook page. Other than that, she has no backup plan.

“I'm kind of in shock, because I didn't expect this this soon," she says. "I'm hoping that, as of next week, I'll be able to collect unemployment. It certainly won't pay my bills, but it's a little something."

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