Johnny Lulgjuraj said that because of hurricanes and road closures in recent years, businesses can't afford the loans that are being offered.
First, it was, “Stay open, but limit the dining room to 50% capacity.” Then, it was, “Close the dining area, but allow take out."
“This is our community, and it really makes me sick that a lot of businesses are going out of business."
JOHNNY LULGJURAJ, owner
Johnny Lulgjuraj has been frustrated by the frequent changes and mixed messages he’s been getting as co-owner of Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill in Flagler Beach. It makes it hard to survive during the coronavirus outbreak, and the government at some level will need to provide grants to help restaurants if they are going to survive, he said.
Even following the guidelines of the state doesn’t satisfy some people who feel social distancing should be more extreme.
“We tried pickup delivery curbside,” he said in a March 23 interview in a dining room full of upside down chairs but no customers. “We were testing things out, and I’m getting bashed on social media by people saying that’s not far enough. … It’s a lose-lose-lose all around.”
Delivery has been slow to catch on because people already have the habit of calling Domino's or other places that they usually use for delivery, he said.
Fortunately, Oceanside is coming off one of its most profitable Bike Weeks ever. But considering the multiple hurricanes in recent years (including having to close for five days as a precaution during the Hurricane Dorian scare last year) and considering the major disruptions to businesses caused by the construction on State Road A1A, Lulgjuraj feels that the state will need to provide grants to restaurants.
He said the business loans that are being offered are not desirable.
“We can’t afford to take on any more debt,” he said. “None of us want a loan. When we get back on our feet, we’re going to be working 80-100 hours a week” even without having to pay back a loan. “Everyone thinks we’re rolling in it, but we are hit by a disaster every year.”
He added that his inventory of food is equivalent to his cash. To make sure it doesn’t go to waste, he’s been giving away meals to first responders and allowing his employees to go “shopping” for free in the kitchen.
“We all need to take care of the people we know we can take care of,” he said. “This is our community, and it really makes me sick that a lot of businesses are going out of business. … There’s a certain threshold where you’re going to be irrecoverable."
He said that he has been encouraged by the responsiveness of many officials, including Sheriff Rick Staly, Flagler Beach Mayor Linda Provencher, Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom and Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney. He also said U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and Florida Rep. Paul Renner have been in touch with him on the phone.
"We’ll be able to find a way to recoup," Lulgjuraj said, "but it’s going to be a battle."
Visit oceansideflagler.com or call 386-439-6345.