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How this downtown St. Pete restaurant’s business model lets it keep workers on the job

Margie Manning

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Pacific Counter is at 660 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg

Amid a spate of restaurant closings and employee layoffs, one downtown St. Petersburg restaurant has vowed to stay open and keep its workers on staff for as long as it can.

Pacific Counter, at 660 Central Ave., will retain all its workers for as long as it possibly can, said co-founder Tanner Loebel. The restaurant also is guaranteeing at least $10 an hour for all its workers — a bump for some minimum wage employees – and is giving its workers free meals. It has launched self-delivery by the three owners, with all tips going directly into an employee pool.

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all restaurants statewide to suspend on-premise food consumption, although they still can offer take-out or delivery.

“Our business model, being fast-casual quick-service, was already set up for to-go and delivery which was a good portion of our business,” Loebel told the St. Pete Catalyst. “It’s difficult for other restaurants to convert their business model and source packaging and do something with their servers.”

The company saw the uneasiness and uncertainty among employees at a team meeting a few days ago.

“Myself and my partners [Eric Bialik and Tock Noythanongsay] decided we would do everything we can to keep everyone who wants to keep working, working,” Loebel said. “Our employees are the lifeblood of the business. I couldn’t imagine not trying to figure out a way to try to keep them employed.”

Pacific Counter’s owners are focused on sustaining the business, and not focused on making money right now, Loebel said. It helps that the restaurant’s landlord, Tricera Capital, said it would defer April rent for its retail tenants, he said.

While it remains open for to-go and delivery, Pacific Counter also has stepped up procedures to minimize the risk of infection. Everything is being sanitized and workers are meeting people at the door and wearing gloves.

Pacific Counter has been flooded with job applications from people laid off from other restaurants that have closed, but it is not currently hiring, he said. Pacific Counter had just gone through a hiring spree, bringing six new workers on staff, prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

Loebel said the restaurant’s customers have been generous in helping out. One customer gave a $250 tip, and many have added 100 percent tips to their orders. The restaurant also has sold more than $1,000 in gift cards this week.

To see Pacific Counter’s menu, click here.

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    Brad Banks

    March 21, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Kudos to this restaurant for doing the right thing. Unlike Fresvos who I just walked past and while they’re open for “take out only“ they’ve got all their chairs and tables out on the sidewalk and they’re letting people sit there and congregate in groups. This should be legal because it certainly unconscionable!

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