By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For Wayne Russell, May 11th, 2020, was a dark day full of sunshine.

That was the day he put a take-out sign in front of Duffy’s Tavern. For Russell, like hundreds of other restaurant owners and operators, it was a lifeline in the grips of coronavirus shutdowns.

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“Survival. I just wanted to get anything going. People picked up, delivery, we passed that, thank God,” he said.

The iconic west Miami sports bar and restaurant, where former President Bill Clinton stopped by and generations have sat at the bar and celebrated University of Miami wins and mourned losses, was in the same boat as hundreds of restaurants in Miami-Dade. No indoor dining allowed.

“We had to furlough a lot of people, we did the best we could,” said Russell. “It was survival mode, and thankfully they were letting us to takeout.

Ten months later, Duffy’s is pretty much up and running but it has been a struggle.

“We did get the P.P.P. (Paycheck Protection Program loan) but that was gone in a month and a half,” said Russell. “I borrowed more money from the SBA, which is not forgivable, and we have paid that back. I think we are where we want to be.”

Duffy’s ace in the hole during the pandemic was its loyal local clientele and that loyalty runs deep.

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“My mom. This is the last place she dined before she crossed over. This was her favorite restaurant,” said regular Antoinette Okon.

Duffy’s had another advantage. They already had an outdoor dining area. So when socially distant outdoor dining was allowed, Duffy’s ramped up to take advantage of the situation.

“I don’t know why we built it,” said Russell. “Now I know why we built it, it panned out.”

“We still have people that go inside, about 50 percent and there are few brave people who sit at the bar,” he added.

Russell said they are a pandemic survival story.

“We are a family here, they trust us, they like the way we run the place. My customers, I think they are smart, if they are sick they stay home,” he said.

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The National Restaurant Association says nearly 17 percent of restaurants have closed either permanently or long-term in Miami-Dade.