Hot dogs, cold sandwiches and Hot Pockets admittedly aren’t fancy fare.
But low-budget, hassle-free cuisine might be a financial godsend for desperate bar owners who’ve been sidelined for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tavern owners throughout the state hurriedly are rehabbing behind-the-counter operations, adding triple sinks, carving out prep areas and signing up for food-handling training so they can get the go-ahead from state regulators to turn the lights back on.
“I didn’t do anything different but put a damn Crock-Pot on my bar,” Becky Glerum, owner of Paddy Wagon Irish Pub in Plant City, told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday, a day after she reopened her business.
Glerum was able to start pulling beer taps again after she obtained a food-service license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees bars and restaurants.
Bars were among the establishments that went dark in March as Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered statewide business shutdowns in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness known as COVID-19.
Many drinking establishments were allowed to reopen on June 5, following an order issued by DeSantis that allowed bars and other vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages to operate at 50 percent capacity while requiring customers to be seated.
But three weeks later as the number of COVID-19 cases spiked, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears ordered a shutdown of “vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, but not licensed to offer food service.”
Beshears blamed the uptick in coronavirus cases on “younger individuals” who packed into bars, pubs or nightclubs and disregarded social-distance requirements that had allowed the establishments to reopen.
But, departing from ordinary regulations, Beshears did not require that a minimum amount of bar owners’ sales come from food.
Beshears, a DeSantis appointee, has mentioned the food-service license as a reopening option during meetings with bar owners throughout the state, his spokeswoman, Karen Smith, confirmed in an email.
As long as bars are serving dining options as simple as hot dogs boiled in a $13.99 Crock-Pot, the method Glerum is employing, it doesn’t matter how much food they sell.
Critics of the state’s approach, including tavern owners and regulatory experts, say it doesn’t make sense.