Downtown Ocala restaurants open dining rooms, rehire workers as Florida begins phase 1 of reopening

Businesses able to rehire workers after nearly a month

OCALA, Fla. – Downtown Ocala is starting to come back to life now that more restaurants are opening back up and offering dine-in services.

Billy Gilchrist took his wife, 6-month-old daughter, and mother to Brick City Southern Kitchen, taking advantage of the newly opened outdoor dining area. Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order that began Monday restaurants can reopen their dining rooms but must maintain a 25% capacity maximum or offer outdoor dinning.

"We're excited to get out and try new meals other than what we've been cooking for six weeks. I think all of the communities have done a great job with social distancing and preparing for this," said Gilchrist.

The servers were all wearing masks and gloves, and the customers were seated at every other table. Brick City management said opening back up the dining room has helped their business.

[MORE: Everything you need to know about phase one of reopening Florida]

"We've hired back everybody. All of our staff is now back on the payroll and they are thrilled to be back to work," said Beverage Director, Alex Dooley.

On the other side of the block, Mark's Prime Steakhouse and Seafood is preparing to open for the first time in nearly two months.

"We went from a packed house to a dead standstill. I think the biggest heartbreak was watching the staff. I had 54 staff members and it's been hard watching them try to make do and survive waiting for us to reopen each day," said Managing Partner, Cindi Nicholson.

Nicholson said offering take-out was not an option because their customers expect a fine-dining experience. So they created more room outside to accommodate customers.

Nicholson said tables will be sanitized after each customer which will increase turnaround times but said if they just break even, it’s worth staying open to serve the community.

For people who are not comfortable dining in right now, some Ocala restaurants said they will continue to offer curbside and take-out services.

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