Pizza and a roll: Pinellas restaurants get creative to lure customers

WingHouse on Ulmerton Road in Largo was offering free car washes with takeout orders this past weekend.

CLEARWATER — Under a perfect blue sky, Clearwater Beach was empty, parking spaces were abundant and the only sound was the “wham-ring” of a pile driver pounding steel pilings for a hotel under construction. The restaurants were largely closed, with chairs and tables chained together, umbrellas closed.

That’s why Jimmy’s offered a “free jumbo roll of toilet tissue” when customers order “Jimmy’s Survival Kit”: Two, 14-inch pizzas with two toppings, 10 wings, and a six pack of beer.

Like other restaurants, Jimmy’s, in the Holiday Inn at 521 S. Gulfview Blvd., can deliver.

Owners of beach restaurants thought they caught a break after the City Council closed the beaches to avoid the spread of coronavirus but allowed restaurants to remain open with reduced seating. That came to an end March 17 when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis directed all restaurants and food establishments within the state to suspend all dine-in food and beverage consumption for customers.

The exception: restaurants can remain open for take-out and delivery orders amid the pandemic.

“That’s why we’re passing out our flyers in the condominiums and the hotels nearby,” said Rick Norberg, food and beverage director at the Holiday Inn Clearwater Beach. “We can put it in coolers and deliver and customers can pick up take-out orders.”

He is optimistic, saying the offer is designed “to make people laugh. The offer is real, and we will fill the order.”

As the coronavirus shutdown enters its second week, Amanda Payne, the executive director of Amplify Clearwater, said she is seeking ways to reduce financial pain during the 30-day shutdown.

“My staff and I have not worked out the details yet, but we want to create a central website to drive customers to Clearwater restaurants,” Payne told the Beacon on March 23. “Anyone who wants to send a meal to first responders, hospital workers, physicians, nurses, police officers, others on the front line (can) do so from local restaurants.”

The idea is to offer discounts and other offers to create demand for Clearwater restaurant orders, she said. She will have more details as they are worked out.

“It’s to organize a service so we’re making sure orders from local restaurants that need your support, to please place orders from them, to send them to literally everyone on the front line to take care of those workers. The Chamber will be the organizer, but we’ll have an official statement to the media in the next (few) days.”

In the meantime, some beach businesses remain open with hope as their chief currency.

Though Jimmy’s was the only restaurant on the block that was open, things were still “very slow.” Indeed, the eateries at Shephard’s Beach Resort next door are closed, but the Clearwater Water Sports booth on the property is open. Dillon Zettwuch sat in the little tiki hut with his jet skis uncovered, ready for customers that hadn’t yet arrived on Monday morning. The water off the beach was clear, ready for riders to launch and ride.

“We are open and ready to show people a crazy, great ride,” Zettwuch told the Beacon. “But most everybody has left, this is prime-time Spring Break.”

He said he is taking it “literally day by day” and will stay open.

Over at the Clearwater Beach Marina, a few tourists walked along the charter boat row, talking to a few captains who were awaiting the rare angler.

David and Jess Allen had been visiting Clearwater Beach over the weekend, staying at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach. The New York City couple seemed relaxed and said they were enjoying themselves.

“We plan to eat some breakfast, rent a jet ski, and relax around the pool at the hotel,” David said. “We don’t want to, but we have to go back Tuesday.”

The Allens were in luck: Salt Cracker Fish Camp in the Clearwater Beach Marina — where they talked to a reporter — was open for carryout at 11 a.m. The restaurant offers a curbside and delivery menu that’s available 7 days from 11 a.m. to close.

Over at CKs Eats ’n Drinks, at 325 S. Gulfview Blvd., key managing bartender Michael Dias and a co-worker awaited more customers for their carryout. No one sat inside, but two men ate a to-go order on the front steps.

“The Beachview Motel is empty, which is a big source of customers,” Dias said. “But we also get a lot of walk-ins off the beach, and that’s not happening since the beach closed. We are staying open from 11 a.m. to whenever today to just see how it goes.”

Like other Clearwater Beach motels and hotels that remain open, the Beachview offers much lower rates than usual Spring Break prices. Some beach-view rooms, regularly around $300, are listed for $164 on its website. Likewise, the Holiday Inn shows $188 a night, clearly below seasonal rates.

Restaurants further from the beach seem to be doing a little better, said Patty Shade, owner of Sages Bistro. Her restaurant, up the hill from Sand Key, is open and has been serving customers with carryout and delivery service. Her Italian/European bistro styled menu includes wine and beer. She is offering free delivery through DoorDash and will remain open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the 30-day shutdown.

“We advertise our menu and delivery service on our Facebook page; like other restaurants, we rely on Facebook to get the word out that we’re open,” said Shade, who has owned Sages for 25 years.

The WingHouse on Ulmerton Road in Largo is offering free car washes with to-go orders.

Local restaurant owners, like other small business owners, hope Congress will come up with relief. According to the Small Business Administration, help will soon be on the way.

“The SBA will work directly with state governors to provide targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and non-profits that have been severely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19),” the website states. “The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.”