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Restaurant News: Euphemia Haye Restaurant on responding to the pandemic


Longboat Key restaurant Euphemia Haye reaches its 40th anniversary in August under its current ownership. Yet this year has been unlike any other in that decades-long history because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Written by Jimmy Geurtsfor the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

When Florida restaurants were ordered closed except for to-go in March to help contain COVID-19's spread, Euphemia Haye switched to a curbside pickup system. It reopened in late May for dine-in under current state guidelines, and now a Longboat Key ordinance requiring masks when social distancing is not possible along with certain other exemptions such as while eating or drinking.

Housed in a wooden cottage surrounded by tropical foliage, Euphemia Haye features a downstairs fine-dining area as well as the upstairs Haye Loft. Chef Raymond Arpke and his wife D'Arcy have owned the restaurant since 1980.

In a July 22 phone interview, Raymond discussed how the restaurant has responded to the pandemic.

Executive Chef and Euphemia Haye Co-Owner Raymond Arpke. Herald Tribune Staff Photo

What does your dine-in setup look like now?

We've removed approximately half of the tables, just completely taken them out. Where we couldn't, like in booths that are next to each other, we've put in partitions between the booths. The people that are in the booths are back-to-back anyway, but there's also a Plexiglas piece in between now. Other than that, all the tables are six feet apart.

Are you doing any outdoor seating currently?

There's a little bit upstairs on the back porch, but it's basically nil because right now it's too hot, or it's raining, or the bugs'll get you. There's a few seats up there, but it's seldom we get anybody to sit out there. Some do, some like it. Those who like the heat are fine out there, and later on in the evening, some people will go out there.

How has the customer response been since reopening?

I tell you what, people are just thanking me left and right for being open. It's just like, "Thank God you're here, we've been waiting to come back ever since you closed." Everybody's really glad we're open. We met some resistance at first with the mask thing, but we just required it from day one. Now you pass no less than six signs that say you must wear a mask to enter the building before you come in, so if somebody comes in without a mask, they've pretty much ignored six signs. I gave up giving masks away when I got to $1,000 worth of masks and I said, "I'm sorry, now we're charging for them." So pretty much everybody is wearing a mask now; seldom somebody will try and sneak in without a mask.

A Signature Euphemia Haye Dish. Herald Tribune Staff Photo

What are you doing in terms of takeout, delivery or other options for those who aren't comfortable doing dine-in yet?

We are doing curbside from I believe we start at 4:30 for pickup. What we're doing is keeping them kind of like a reservation because we have the one kitchen and we have to do the takeout in between doing our regular food. So we have to be real cautious about times because I can't make my kitchen too busy, we're very good about making things to order. We can only take certain times, you can't just call and say, "I'm going to pick this up in 20 minutes," we can't do it like that. So you call and you make an appointment, you do a pre-order for when you're going to pick it up.

Beyond the social distancing measures, what are you doing in terms of safety and sanitation?

Well, we've gone to throwaway menus, and they actually are really cool, they're placemats. We've normally had on the table a rather ornate china charger, and my wife had that transferred onto a throwaway placemat, and she has had the menu put on top of that. So it looks really nice, what she's done, we get really good comments on it all the time. Other than that, we're changing the cloth every time somebody comes in, which we did anyway. But now, we're also sanitizing the tables with approved sanitizer and also sanitizing even the rose stem that's there, the long vase that it's in, the salt and pepper shakers. Anything that goes back on the table is being sanitized with sanitizer.

The busboy, if he changes tasks, he has to sanitize himself, put on different gloves, wash his hands, do all those things that are required. We've all taken a class on this, all of my employees were at this COVID-19 class which the (Restaurant and Lodging Association) sponsors. So we've taken that, and I also just had 20 take the managers course, which that's kind of unheard of. I have at least seven manager-rated people on during the night when we're working. There's only one required and I have like seven, so everybody's been extra-trained in that sense.

What does your staff look like now compared to the start of the pandemic?

We're only open five days now, so yes, we have quite a bit smaller staff, and quite frankly it's much easier to staff only being open five days. This is the time of year when it's slower anyway, so if we had to do this, this is a good time of the year to do it. Because we're actually filling the place up now with the diminished seating and even turning some tables over, so that's a good thing. We're still taking reservations for downstairs, we do not take reservations upstairs. But quite frankly, the bar room up there is pretty quiet because it's socially distanced. It's hard to socially distance a bar because you're all right next to each other, but it is. I brought them a string that's six feet long and I make sure that they don't seat anybody within six feet of each other if they're not in the same party.

The Euphemia Haye Signature Peppered Steak. Herald Tribune Staff Photo

If business ramps up, would you bring back more staffers or add more hours?

This is the slow time of year, and it's going to get slower until October. We always close September. August 1 will be our 40th anniversary, my wife and I have owned the restaurant for 40 years as of August 1. We don't really plan on doing anything, we can't really do a party for anybody. Maybe someday we will, we had a really nice 25th years ago. But going back to staffing, I probably won't bring more staff back, and probably will not open seven days, until October. I just can't see it happening because business is just going to keep getting slower and we generally close anyway for September. So we are closing this September, and we won't reopen until after the first week of October.

What is staff morale like?

Everybody has been good, everybody's been with me a long time. So they know that we're getting through this together just like they are, and they know that we're suffering just like everybody else in the world is.

How would you compare this other challenges you may have dealt with during your decades in the restaurant business, whether that's red tide, recessions or hurricanes?

It is by the far worst thing that's ever happened to the restaurant business, by far. I mean, nothing compares. Recessions are bad enough, we've had peaks and valleys, but this is unprecedented. It's unbelievably bad.

Euphemia Haye (5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key; 941-383-3633; opens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Some of the most popular menu items:

• The roasted duck, filled with bread stuffing and served with a seasonal fruit sauce.

• The peppered steak, rolled in cracked peppercorns, pan-fried and served with a sweet orange brandy butter sauce.

• The snapper, encrusted with pistachios and served with a key lime-jalapeño beurre blanc and red pepper curls.

• The veal of the day, as well as veal sweetbreads, with Arpke calling the latter his favorite menu item.

• The Caesar salad, with the restaurant's homemade creamy lemon and anchovy dressing.

• Euphemia's "famous pies," which include Southern classics such as pecan, and key lime pie, plus there's the peanut butter mousse pie with a Myers's Rum & dark chocolate icing.


Restaurants are now permitted to operate with 50% indoor capacity and outdoor seating following recommended social distancing of at least six feet. There's no limit on capacity for outdoor seating as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. The governor's executive order does not mandate the use of masks. However, the FRLA recommends customers, employees and employers consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for employers responding to COVID-19, and certain cities and counties such as the city of Sarasota, Longboat Key and Holmes Beach have introduced mandatory mask rules.

The upstairs Haye Loft at Euphemia Haye. Herald Tribune Staff Photo