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Lakeland Restaurateur Stays Afloat In Uncertain Times

A chef finishes plating a dish.
Chef Marcos Fernandez

Downtown Lakeland restaurant Nineteen61 has earned statewide honors for its upscale, modern take on Spanish cuisine. Now it's staying busy and avoiding layoffs by offering family-style comfort food, home delivery -- and even toilet paper.

Nineteen61’s chef and founder, Marcos Fernandez, said some restaurants are having a harder time adapting to this era of quarantine and isolation. Nineteen61 offers its own delivery service, because Fernandez said he wants the assurance that his employees will follow all the sanitary guidelines. They also offer curbside pickup.

“We’re diversifying,” Fernandez said. The restaurant started selling milk, cheese, eggs…and toilet paper. Customers bought it. He drastically changed his menu, adding Italian pasta dishes, mac and cheese, and other affordable family fare. And he continued his already strong social media presence, which he said is an essential communication tool.

“I ran into a friend in the store. He looked terrible. He looked depressed. I said, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ He’s like, ‘nothing.’ I said, ‘get online and tell people you’re selling food! Let everybody know you’re open. Change your ways! Start delivery!’ He has a great restaurant, great food, and he has no sales. You’ve got to let people know you can do this.”

Fernandez says he doesn’t know how long the restaurant business will be sustainable with only delivery and takeout options.  Right across the street, he said, one of the busiest restaurants in town has already shut its doors. “As the days progress, if we can’t get some type of bailout,” he said, “it’s going to get chaotic.”

Hear more Florida food stories on The Zest Podcast.

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