David Whitley (Orlando Sentinel) writes about Justin’s Caribbean Fusion Restaurant in Orlando, Florida. This is one in a series of stories about Central Floridians living with and adapting to the coronavirus crisis. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]
When Williere and Dannie Justin decided to open a Caribbean restaurant, it wasn’t a complete leap of faith. They had a good location. They had a tempting menu. They also had the worst timing in restaurant history. Their grand opening was Jan. 15, and we all know what happened next. Now thousands of places like Justins Caribbean Fusion Restaurant are trying to restart business.
The reopenings have been not so grand. “People are still afraid,” Williere said, “and people don’t have money.” I wandered into his restaurant at lunchtime, hungry for a good sit-down meal after weeks of styrofoam takeout. I also was looking for a good story, one that illustrates what it’s like to be in the restaurant business these days. I ordered a house salad with grilled chicken. While I waited, I was served a story that’s all too common right now.
Phase 1 reopening guidelines began May 4, allowing restaurants to have 25% indoor capacity. That meant 49 people could be inside Justins at one time.
As I sat at the bar, and there was still room for 48 other diners. Dannie got out the appointment book and began flipping through the reservations. There were parties scribbled in throughout March, April and May. Coronavirus canceled them all.
Since reopening last week, one day saw four diners. There were seven a couple other days. That’s better than none, but it’s hardly enough to keep the Justins’ dream alive for the long haul.
[. . .] Small businesses anchor America’s economy. There were about 30 million of them three months ago, employing almost 60 million people.
They can all relate to what’s happening at Justins. The staff of 14 is down to one server and one assistant cook. Otherwise, it’s just Williere and Dannie and their determination.
Both are 54 and originally from Haiti. They didn’t meet until 2009, when mutual friends set them up. “It was a match made in heaven,” Williere said. [. . .]
Dannie’s career is in human relations. Both were tired of the corporate grind and wanted to control their destiny. They quit their jobs and found a spot on Conroy Road, figuring they could attract tourists from nearby Universal and locals from Windermere and Dr. Phillips. They spent seven months remodeling what been a sushi restaurant. Walk in now, and you’d think you were in Port-au-Prince.
The yellow walls are decorated with Caribbean art. Steel drum music drifts through the air. Then there’s the menu.
Seafood kreyol with linguini…. Conch de province…. Root vegetable akra served with pineapple and mango salsa. “I’m trying to revolutionize what Caribbean food is all about,” Williere said. “There is sort of stigma when it comes to Caribbean restaurants. We want to change that. We want people know when walk into Caribbean restaurant, they can get as great a meal as if they went to the (Grand) Bohemian or a Disney location.” [. . .]
“We had no idea what was coming,” Dannie said. [. . .]