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Local restaurateur donates salary to keep staff payroll going during coronavirus closure

Daniel DeLeon, president and CEO of Grumpy’s in Orange Park, donated his salary for two months to an employee relief fund as sales dip during to-go only mandate.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — As restaurants across the nation shutter their dining rooms for to-go service only in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, local businesses are doing what they can to make sure their staff continues to receive an income.

Daniel DeLeon, president and CEO of Grumpy's in Orange Park, forfeited two months of his own salary to donate to an employee relief fund in an effort to continue paying staff as sales take a hit.

"We’re doing sales volumes currently that are about 20% of what we would expect, and sometimes even less," Deleon said. "With 20% we’re hoping for the best-case scenario, which is kind of hard to say, but we’re fighting."

The American-style diner known for its eclectic dessert-style waffles and pancakes as well as diner favorites like roast turkey and meatloaf has transitioned to takeout only under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For Grumpy's, that means adding new features to its existing to-go procedures.

"We’ve had to pivot and look at things a little bit differently than what we normally have," DeLeon said. "We’re typically used to running with 20, 25 employees on a shift, very high-paced, very busy diner environment. So we’ve pivoted to a smaller daily staff and processing to-go orders and pickup orders, via curbside pickup, and more phone orders, so it’s definitely a big transition for us."

The diner is also incorporating additional sanitation measures, along with an extensive variety of single-use disposable items from to-go containers to condiments.

"That curbside pickup has really helped us," DeLeon said. "People enjoy just pulling up. It’s kind of like a mini drive-thru, right? We actually have some people pulling up right to the front door. So it’s pretty cool. Customers are embracing it. Some customers choose to take the food with them or eat it right there in their car."

Credit: Grumpy's
Grumpy's Fruity Pebbles waffle

DeLeon said while the employee relief fund isn't currently open for public donations, a couple of outsiders have made gifts to the staff.

"I received a call from our architect," DeLeon said. "We’re opening a couple other locations. And he wanted to donate. He said I’m actually sending over three sets of your plans for your permits and Middleburg location, and I’m going to put a $500 check in there for you guys. I know what you’re doing, I know what you did, and I want to participate."

A customer also made a donation to the restaurant's staff.

"We had a customer call on Monday asking how many people are on staff, how many people were there," DeLeon said. "He came on Tuesday, fresh envelope, 27 $100 bills. And wanted to make sure that they got to every one of our staff members that we have in house."

Credit: Grumpy's
Grumpy's staff members

While the Grumpy's internal employee relief fund is not open for public donations, there are ways to help the First Coast food and beverage industry. The Northeast Florida Service Workers Virtual Tips Facebook page has a Google Sheets document where workers can enter their information to receive donations directly from anyone who wishes to contribute.

You can also donate to the U.S. Bartenders Guild National Charity Foundation's COVID-19 Relief Campaign. The foundation's website includes links for other resources for those in need as well.

As for Grumpy's and the food and beverage industry in the First Coast, DeLeon said while it's a tough time for restaurant workers, they're part of a strong community that will bounce back once the threat of the coronavirus has passed.

"We understand, being aware of the situation, aware of the virus, so it’s really not a rush to reopen, but we really want to," DeLeon said. "We want to make sure everything is safe and everyone feels comfortable, and then hopefully hit the ground running."

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