Orange County

'We’re extremely excited’: Bar owners, city officials gear up to reopen bars up to reopen Monday

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — After getting word that bars can reopen at half capacity beginning Monday, owners are busy getting ready to reopen their businesses after months of being closed.

“We’re extremely excited, obviously,” said John Sanfelippo, who had to lay off 225 workers and friends at the six bars he owns downtown. Like other bar owners, he planned to get a food license which would allow him to reopen and sell drinks.

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But things changed when the executive order was issued late Thursday to allow bars to reopen Monday.

“So we build that staff, and hopefully we get everything open as quick as possible,” Sanfelippo said.

He’s bought new tables and chairs and will be setting up more like a restaurant to keep social distancing. He also is spending $40,000 to build a full kitchen inside The Social, which Sanfelippo owns.

Bars in Florida can reopen at 50% capacity beginning Monday

He said he knows the hard part will be getting people to follow the rules, “and just getting people to realize that we need restaurant behavior, not nightclub behavior, when they come in.”

Sanfelippo said he plans to have his workers wear lanyards that say “social distancing enforcement” to help remind people of the rules. He said the bar most likely won’t open until Wednesday.

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Bars were shut down in March, then reopened a few weeks in June, then had to close again unless they had a food permit.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said that bars “have one of the hardest business models to figure out how to operate.”

But on Friday, he said he believes owners can reopen safely.

“I have some great confidence that they’re going to try really hard to do the right thing,” Dyer said, adding that patrons will, too.

“If you want the bars to stay open, then you’re going to have to behave in a manner that allows them to stay open,” he said.

That means patrons must wear their masks when they’re not actively drinking, watching your distance and washing your hands often.

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The Orange County Department of Health said it’s already seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases among 18-to-24-year-olds.

Mayor Jerry Demings said his strike team will be out to keep an eye out on things, and so will state agents with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“We are taking all of this very seriously to protect the lives of the people here in Orange County,” Demings said.

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Neither the city of Orlando, Orange County or any other Central Florida county has said it would challenge the state’s order to reopen bars.

“If they alert me to the fact that there’s widespread outbreaks associated with bars, then ... we will look then, within our own local authority, whether or not we need to make any adjustments or not.”

Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal,

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.

Adam Poulisse,

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.