WEST MIAMI-DADE (CBSMIAMI) – Restaurant owners in Miami-Dade are welcoming a return to indoor dining for the first time since early July and said they hope they can survive economically amid the new restrictions.

Ely Acosta Ana said her family’s business of 46 years had been planning to shut down until a sudden surge of customers at the iconic Rio Cristal restaurant at 99th Avenue and Bird Road in West Miami-Dade.

“At first being back here was a bit weird after being shut down for indoor dining for so long but now it is pretty exciting,” she told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench.

Acosta Ana said her restaurant faced many hurdles after indoor dining was banned from March until May because of the coronavirus pandemic and then banned again in early July.

“The first closure really affected us,” she said. “Then the second one hit us really hard.”

Rio Cristal, like other restaurants in Miami-Dade, was forced to survive with take-out meals.

“I know some people think we said we were going to close as a marketing ploy but that was not the case,” she said. “Now I am getting set to take over my family’s business. I was in the mortgage business for 20 years and I loved my job and I didn’t imagine this would happen but I am really excited to take it on.”

William Rodriguez, a customer at the restaurant known for its Rio Cristal steak covered by a mountain of thinly-sliced, oil-fried French fries, said “It is about time. It is about time. I hope it stays this way for a long time.”

As CBS4 saw at another iconic restaurant, Versailles on SW 8th Street in Miami, restaurants are following a series of restrictions with indoor dining that include having no more than six people at a table. The doors and windows are wide open with the air conditioning on. Waiters and waitresses are required to wear masks, as are customers unless they are dining or drinking.

“This is a little closer to normal. I feel safe. I don’t feel like cattle,” who was dining inside Versailles.

“I feel more comfortable. It is too hot outside,” said Julia Escobar.

Vals Group Inc. consultant Raul Masvidal said “Indoor dining is really welcome in Miami where it is much too hot. The waiters and waitresses are trained not to take their masks off.”

Inside the Deli Lane Cafe in South Miami, owner Jahn Kirchoff said “I am extremely happy that we are back here. We are hoping like everyone that this will stick. I think every restaurant is very cognizant of what it takes to keep people safe and stay open. This has been a devastating blow to the industry. I don’t think there’s Been a single industry nationwide or worldwide that took this bug a hit.”

“Wear a mask,” he said. “It is not a huge deal. If it is going to keep someone safe and someone alive, I think we can all do our part to be good citizens.”

At Coral Bagels in Miami, owner Miriam Angulo said “I am super excited to be here and I am waiting for my customers to come back and we hope they can start their day off here with a nice cup of coffee and breakfast.”

She too has faced serious challenges.

“It has been very difficult,” she said. “Those two closures have really hurt us. We have maintained 75 percent of our staff while covered by PPE.”

The pandemic and fewer people going out forced many to change their hours.

Ernie Fernandez owns Caffe Vialetto in Coral Gables. He is excited for people to enjoy fine dining inside at his restaurant once again. But he isn’t all smiles about everything. People, who he considers like family, were forced to stay away from the restaurant.

“We had to let them go on July 7th. So, a lot of our people, we had to tell them we couldn’t take care of them anymore,” Fernandez said.

The pandemic forced Fernandez to temporarily end lunch and only open for dinner. He’s closed Monday and Tuesday But he reopens Wednesday. That means he can start seating people inside.

He held back his tears thinking about people, who are like family, and have suffered because of the indoor seating ban.

“Sorry. My staff means everything to me,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez started an outside seating area like many restaurants. It has helped. He also plans to keep it while also reopening his indoor space.

He is ready for families to enjoy fine dining inside at his restaurant once again. He plans to welcome old and new faces.

“We’ve been here 22 years. We are fighters. We are fighters. We will be here,” Fernandez said.

He and other restaurants must end outdoor and indoor seating by 10 p.m. But the county mayor is thinking about changing it to 11, similar to Broward, however not until after Labor Day.

Peter D'Oench

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