NEW PORT RICHEY — It’s a stark feeling at The Westside Deli these days, where chairs are stacked on tables 24/7, and customers coming for take-out keep a healthy distance.
Just months ago, the deli was thriving, fed largely by employees and visitors to the Pasco County Government Center across the street on Little Road. Business is down about 40 percent, said Deb Morris, who opened the deli six years ago with her husband, Bob.
The regulars are a thankful mainstay, but new customers also are calling. Some are prompted by a newly-formed Facebook page called SAVE Pasco County Restaurants. It’s filled with handy info on who’s serving what and where for take-out and delivery.
Bob and Deb Morris post on the page every day. She promotes salads and fresh fruit. He posts about the pulled pork and homemade mac and cheese.
“I do the healthy food, and he does the comfort food,” Morris said. "That is our deli. You get a little bit of this and that.”
The Morris’ haven’t met Nick Smith, who recently started the grassroots social media effort for Pasco restaurants and another one for Hernando restaurants. They were surprised to learn that he doesn’t even own a restaurant.
Smith, 31, is proprietor of Dura Guard Paver Sealing in Hudson. Like everyone, he’s taken an economic hit, but he’s concerned about restaurant owners and their employees in his business network who are trying to stay afloat.
“The majority I talked to were running at 30 percent capacity,” Smith said. “They’re laying off employees — cooks and waitresses."
The thing was, Smith said, "a lot of places were open for curbside pick-up and delivery, but no one knew about it.”
Restaurants post their menus and specials on his pages. Patrons weigh in and share photos.
“When people are sharing their meals, obviously it’s enticing,” said Smith, who last week gave a plug for gyros at Christos, a family-owned restaurant in Trinity.
Greg Giordano, a customer of Beef O’Brady’s in Port Richey, wrote about his first-time Grub Hub delivery from the favorite family haunt. His wife got the Reuben, his son ordered the chicken tender platter. And he ordered, his favorite — the fish n’ chips.
“It was all great. Was delivered hot and everything,” he said, adding that shopping local is more important to him than ever.
Kelly-Zena Cooper said the Facebook page offers alternatives for her family.
“I think it is great that not only are people in our community posting, but restaurants are posting their specials or family bundles,” she wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “I think it is great how we have all adjusted during this pandemic ... I have hope that we can stay connected even after this has passed.”
Craft Street Kitchen in Trinity has gained customers from SAVE Pasco Restaurants — even though the restaurant doesn’t post there.
“We let our guests do the talking for us,” said operating partner Tyler Dunbar, adding that the restaurant keeps consistent with burger and flatbread specials and to-go cocktails to give customers a sense of normalcy.
“This is such a tight community. The support has been wonderful,“ he said.
The SAVE Hernando County Restaurant page absolutely helps, said Rory Marchido, of Odessa. He’s a franchise owner of Glory Days Grill in Brooksville, a restaurant typically bustling with fundraiser specials for local schools, youth sports leagues and churches.
On March 18, Marchido had to furlough about 65 employees. He now staffs to-go orders with about 14 employees.
“It’s been the worst part of my job,” he said. “These people are like family. You feel like you’re turning your backs on them.”
Smith’s efforts have helped open communication with a community of shut-ins while putting some people to work, Marchido said. It also offers hope.
“People send me messages telling me ‘I’ve never eaten in your restaurant, but I’ll be a customer for life,'" Marchido said. "I think when all the dust settles, maybe by this time next year, we’re going to be very busy.”