SWFL Business Finds New Ways to Bring Customers Together During Pandemic
Restaurants in the state have had to adapt quickly to service restrictions brought on by the pandemic.
For the last seven years, Nice Guys Pizza in Cape Coral has taken pride in delighting patrons' palates with its quirky menu, as well as doubling as a performance venue for local musicians.
Nice Guys co-owner Greg Gebhard said Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order closing restaurant dining rooms in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, hit many neighboring businesses hard.
“I saw like grown men tearing up that you would normally never see be emotional or anything like that,” Gebhard said. “They were getting really emotional about having to let all their staffs go, and we’ve been really, really, really fortunate that we’ve been able to keep everybody on, and we’re super fortunate that people keep coming in and giving us their business.”
Like some restaurants, Nice Guys is offering pick up and delivery service. Gebhard’s wife and co-owner Jovana Batkovic said in addition to providing protective gear like masks and sanitizer for staff members, they are empowering employees to work as little or as much as they are comfortable during the outbreak.
“Our entire goal was, like, ‘Here, we’re open if you need to work and make money, you can. We will do whatever we have to do to make this happen, like, this is very important’,” Batkovic said.
In addition to having their food menu available for pick up and delivery, Nice Guys has also put together cocktail kits for people to take home.
"Our scene is beers, cocktails and food and before we were just doing the food and then some beers and now we can actually do the third thing that is actually pretty important to us too, which is nice," Grebhard said.
While brainstorming ways to bring some normalcy to customers during the pandemic, Batkovic and Gebhard found a way to keep the Nice Guys music scene alive.
“We’re hiring musicians that we know that are cool to do these virtual concerts Saturday nights so that people can like grab a pizza, grab a couple cocktails, go home, be safe and watch on their computers, performances,” Batkovic said.
Local musician Claire Liparulo of the band The Freecoasters was one of the first artists to live stream a Nice Guys performance from her home. In the video, she set up string lights to form the initials “N.G.” as if she were performing at Nice Guys Pizza.
Gebhard said the performances provide a way to get some money into the pockets of local musicians that are unable to book traditional gigs during the pandemic.
“You know, we can pay them a little bit of money, but I’m sure it’s not nearly what they would get playing a four hour gig,” Gebhard said. “So hopefully with the little that we can give them, plus people be throwing in some tip money in their Venmos, that’ll help them kind of get through everything now too.”
The streams have drawn thousands of views on the Nice Guys Facebook page. Batkovic said plans are in the works to stream DJ sets as well.
“It’s not like this is a business move, you know? This is something that we’re doing just for our friends who can’t come to Nice Guys because of the situation, but they can still get that feel, you know, at home,” Batkovic said.
To further recreate the atmosphere of being at Nice Guys, the owners have put together a playlist on the website Bandcamp that is a compilation of bar sounds.
“You can go on there and play like sound effects of cocktails being shaken and broken glasses and like bartenders being like, “have you decided on a beer? Would you like another cocktail?” Batkovic said. “And it’s so funny, people have been, like, downloading and listening to it.”
Gebhard said they’ve received positive feedback about the playlist.
“Bring a little bit of something they would only get at Nice Guys or if they go out somewhere, just kind of bringing it to them,” Gebhard said. “You know, we miss hearing them and I’m sure they miss hearing us, hopefully.”
In addition to trying to bring the sounds of Nice Guys to consumers during quarantine, Gebhard and Batkovic have also printed some t-shirts that will go toward a rainy day fund for their employees.
“I’m hoping we don’t—but if we end up getting shut down or if we end up needing to supplement their income—all that [t-shirt] money is just sitting on the side right now, waiting just in case something happens where we need to support [the staff] for a little while,” Gebhard said.