By Anne Geggis
For 35 years, Runyon’s steaks have been packing diners in, but now the longtime restaurant owner has a huge beef with Broward County’s pandemic rules that force him to shut his dining room down at 10 p.m. every night.
Kevin O’Connor said he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep his family-run business open — so he’s mounting a campaign to convince area leaders to ease up. And let him keep the dining room open at least until 11 p.m. like neighboring Palm Beach County’s restaurant rules allow.
The occasion restaurant, with a $54 roasted prime rib, is not an early-bird kind of place, nor is it a pizza or wing joint where patrons take it out, O’Connor said.
“My average customer comes in at 7:30 and stays until 9 p.m.” O’Connor explained. “We can’t turn the table over for another party if we close at 10.”
The pandemic rules were designed to dissuade people from congregating late into the night, without masks because they are drinking and eating. The new coronavirus is spread primarily through person-to-person contact, and avoiding the infected —at least six feet apart — is only the sure-fire way to stay healthy.
The spike in cases soon after in-person dining was allowed in mid-May led South Florida government to restrict restaurants beyond the state pandemic rules that keep restaurants from filling beyond 50 percent capacity.
O’Connor says that early last call, combined with minimal customers allowed, could mean he has to close his doors permanently. He’s already reduced the number of employees by about 20, so now he’s got 30 employees.
“With those limitations, we have not been able to find a path to break even, and the longer these regulations are in place, the less likely that we will see the other side of this pandemic,” O’Connor said.
He said he’s got 14 other restaurant owners who have pledged to write their own letters pleading for survival.
O’Connor said he doesn’t understand why he has to shut down at 10 p.m. if he’s following guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, which require customers to keep six feet apart. The onus should be on local code enforcement to make sure that restaurants are not packing them in.
“What difference does it make whether it’s 10 p.m. or 12 a.m.?” he said. “We should not be the martyr of places that are not following the rules.”
Commissioner Michael Udine said he understands O’Connor’s point and sees the shutdown rules as more fitting for places on the beach, where crowds tend to congregate late into the night, unlike the Northwest Broward suburbs.
“I intend to continue following up with this to see if there can be some kind of different accommodation,” Udine said. “A lot of businesses are on the brink, and we need to do something to help with this if it can be done safely.”
Udine said he did not vote on the stricter rules for Broward County restaurants that are also in effect in Miami-Dade County. Broward County Manager Bertha Henry drew up the rules in an emergency order. She was not available Thursday to discuss O’Connor’s issues further.
Spencer Melz, who runs Game Night, a Coral Springs arcade and eats place on University Drive, would join in to advocate for different rules. His business usually doesn’t get going until the hour that he’s supposed to shut down, he said.
“It takes a huge chunk out of my business,” Melz said of the current rules. He’d be happier if the rules allowed one more hour.
“Or if they just put it back to normal and let adults make adult decisions,” Melz said.
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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