The Epicurean Hotel has 100 vacant rooms, so it’s offering gourmet grocery pickup

As Tampa Bay hotels close and lay off employees, one hospitality company is getting creative to keep people working.
The Epicurean Hotel is going to start offering gourmet grocery pickup as a way to keep its employees working.
The Epicurean Hotel is going to start offering gourmet grocery pickup as a way to keep its employees working. [ Epicurean Hotel ]
Published March 27, 2020

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at

• • •

TAMPA — There are 100 vacant rooms at the Epicurean Hotel this week.

That means just 37 are filled and a lot of the staff has been called off work.

It also means the Epicurean has lots of extra toilet paper. Eggs, too. So, the hotel’s operators at Mainsail Lodging and Development have decided to get creative to retain a little business. They’re about to launch a grocery store drive-through at the boutique hotel in Hyde Park.

“I want to keep as many people employed as possible,” said Mainsail chief executive Joe Collier. “Even if we break even, I want to keep the hotel open and we’re going to do that.”

Across Florida and the country, hotels with low-occupancy have been pushed into mass layoffs and closing their doors as would-be travelers stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19.

St. Petersburg’s Magnuson Hotel Marina Cove filed a notice with the state that it laid off 55 workers. The Grand Orlando Resort laid off 102 and the Hyatt Regency Sarasota 114. Thousands and thousands of other hospitality workers have been put on furlough.

Related: COVID-19 empties Tampa Bay hotels. What happens to their 150,000 employees?

The Rumfish Resort on St. Pete Beach is closed and TradeWinds has shifted all of its bookings to the Island Grand property next door. Tampa’s 444-room Grand Hyatt Hotel is scheduled to stay closed until May 1. The Wyndham Grand in Clearwater Beach isn’t taking new bookings. The Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor won’t open again until April 30 at the earliest.

“It’s affecting everybody,” Collier said. “I know airlines and hotels have gotten just crushed, but I also know everybody is being affected by this in some fashion.”

He hopes the new grocery launch not only keeps employees on the payroll but also serves as an inspiration for people to cook five-star meals at home.

“People are going stir crazy,” he said.

Among his few hotel guests are those opting to self-isolate in style, or who are from nearby suburbs and like staying somewhere it’s easier to walk and bike outside.

As room stays continue to dwindle, Collier said, he and his team are continuing to brainstorm ways to diversify and adapt to what the community could use during the crisis. If the drive-up grocery orders are a success, Mainsail plans to expand the option to the Fenway, its boutique hotel in Dunedin.

The new service begins 3 p.m. Saturday. The full list of available items will be available on the Epicurean website. Shoppers must call ahead to order from the online list. Once they’re in front of the hotel, they call again for an employee to bring the order to the curbside.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

It’s a low-contact option for extending the time between runs to the store, Collier said.

On Friday, the kitchen staff was busy preparing the inventory — dairy items, eggs, prime cuts of meat from Bern’s, salads and sauces.

And, of course, toilet paper.

“I don’t want to be known just as the toilet paper hotel,” he said, “but if you’re desperate, we’ve got you.”

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and Tampa Bay, six days a week

ISOLATED ENTERTAINMENT: Lists of ideas to help entertain yourself and your kids at home

NEED TAKEOUT?: Here’s the Tampa Bay restaurants offering curbside pick-up or delivery

FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Reddit.

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.