Some Jacksonville-area restaurants and retail stores spent Sunday preparing to welcome customers back to their dining rooms and outdoor patios beginning Monday when the state eases restrictions combating exposure to COVID-19.


Donovan Hakker rearranged the tables and chairs with precision inside the dining room of Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar in Neptune Beach.


Nearby, general manager J.V. VanValkenburgh taped down an easy-to-sanitize laminated menu on each table, which Hakker then wrestled into place exactly six feet apart.


With those and a few other finishing touches to the popular restaurant, VanValkenburgh said Sunday all is ready to welcome guests back into their dining room at 11 a.m. Monday.


Flying Iguana employees will be wearing face masks and gloves. There is extra hand sanitizer throughout the restaurant, and they have a new cleaning product designed to combat the spread of coronavirus, VanValkenburgh said of their other precautions.


"We’ve been doing really well with to-go service, but absolutely, we’re looking forward to having guests back in our dining room," VanValkenburgh said.


Northeast Florida restaurants as well as retail stores are being allowed to reopen Monday with some restrictions — a 25-percent occupancy limit and a minimum 6-foot social distancing rule for customers.


Gov. Ron DeSantis last Friday eased the statewide moratorium that closed restaurant dining rooms for about a month in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.


Some Jacksonville-area restaurants are opening their doors right away for dine-in guests. But others are taking an initial wait-and-see approach.


Meanwhile, many said they plan to continue takeout, curbside pickup and delivery service. Those services came to the forefront during the dining room moratorium.


Amid takeout and delivery orders, Maggiano’s Little Italy staff wrapped up final preparations during the weekend to reopen the dining room of the restaurant at 10367 Midtown Parkway in St. Johns Town Center.


Jordon Drexler, a manager at the restaurant, said they have been preparing all week but there were a few last-minute details.


"We’ve been getting all our [food] supplies in to go back to our full menu, cleaning everything and have changed our floor plan around," Drexler said Sunday. They’ve changed the dining room floor plan so everything is spaced out apart six feet for social distancing, he said.


"So, no one is going to be closer than six feet. We are not taking reservations of more than 10 people," Drexler said.


He said all staff will be wearing gloves and a mask. The restaurant also is continuing enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures.


Drexler said they’re goal is get back to their full menu as quickly as possible. They had offered a limited menu during the statewide dining room shutdown.


Maggiano’s did "pretty well" with carry-out during the statewide dining room shutdown. They expect to be busy once they reopen the dining room, he said.


The restaurant will reopen with slightly shortened hours — 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. — on Monday. They’re initially closing one hour earlier that normal, Drexler said.


"Everyone is super excited to see people back in here," Drexler said.


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Retailers also are reopening.


St. Johns Town Center, The Avenues and the St. Augustine Premium Outlets — all Simon Property Group shopping centers — are reopening Monday with stringent preventative measures intended to ensure customer and employee safety during the pandemic.


People are encouraged to check with the business before heading there to make sure the store is open and about any restrictions


However, some restaurants, stores and essential businesses at the shopping centers have remained open — albeit operating on a limited basis.


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Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q restaurants, with multiple locations in Jacksonville and neighboring counties, is reopening all its dining rooms Monday, owner Joseph "Joe" Adeeb III said.


The 25-percent occupancy cap, Adeeb said, translates to 40 people in the dining rooms at any given time. Takeout and delivery — a longtime Bono’s staple — will continue at the restaurants, he said.


Adeeb said Bono’s as well as other restaurants used the moratorium to tackle some remodeling or modernizing projects.


"We refinished all of our tables," Adeeb said.


The veteran restaurateur estimated about 50 percent of Jacksonville-area eateries will reopen Monday and the numbers will gradually grow as time passes.


Adeeb said it likely will be about the same statewide. By the end of the week, he said, more restaurants should reopen barring another virus outbreak.


Chef Dennis Chan, owner of Blue Bamboo Restaurant and Wine Bar on the city’s Southside, also spent the weekend finalizing reopening details.


"We’ve just re-configured our dining room so that we can be open on Monday," Chan said. "We have always sanitized regularly, and will continue to do so to ensure a safe environment."


Rue Saint-Marc in San Marco will reopen its dining areas beginning with 5 p.m. Tuesday dinner service.


"At any given time, somewhere between 40 to 50 people will be able to dine while practicing social distancing," Executive Chef Sam Alters said in a news release. "Rue Saint-Marc has decided to limit parties to six people, and there will be no bar seating available."


Alters also said their staff will be screened prior to entering the restaurant for symptoms of the virus. Employees will be required to wear gloves when handling silverware and glassware, he said.


Enhanced precautions also will be in place. They will have single-use menus, and will be sanitizing all surfaces, including door handles and counters, every 20 minutes.


Staff will continue to frequently wash their hands, and enchanced cleaning and sanitizing measures will continue, Alters said.


Singleton’s Seafood Shack in Atlantic Beach has adopted a novel approach to resuming dining-in service.


The popular seafood restaurant plans to offer parking lot seating as well as regular indoor and deck seating.


"We will be offering tables outside in our parking lots and properties if you do not want to dine in quite yet, we do understand and we will accommodate you with our takeout meals," the restaurant announced on Facebook.


However, not all restaurant owners who want to reopen will be able to do so right away.


Ian Chase had hoped to reopen The Fox Restaurant — a longtime, neighborhood favorite diner in the heart of Avondale, on Monday.


Chase temporarily closed the popular breakfast, brunch and lunch staple in late March as COVID-19 cases escalated in Jacksonville.


The 25-percent occupancy cap, he said just isn’t feasible for the 50-seat diner that routinely has customers lined up out the door and part way down the block on weekends.


That comes out to 12 people total at one time inside the restaurant. They also would have to be separated, which would be extremely difficult in the small establishment, Chase said.


"We just don’t meet the parameters just yet," Chase said. "I’m not an expert but the trends seem to be tread lightly on this thing. So, we are going to see what happens."


Chase emphasized they will reopen as soon as possible.


"We’re just waiting for the green light and we’re going to go. We love The Fox. We love the people. We’ll be back," chase said.


The dining room chairs will remain stacked on the tables for a little while longer at Carmine’s Pie House, roughly a mile-and-a half away from The Fox Restaurant.


Although open for take-out and delivery, the Italian restaurant isn’t ready to reopen the dining room yet, the owners said on Facebook.


"We want to ensure our team is fully trained and ready with new safety guidelines for dining in before we decide to re-open," the post said. "We continue to assess the prospects for re-opening our dining room …"


Carmine’s hasn’t announced when it will resume dining-in service but said "hopefully soon" in the post.


Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075




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