In mid-March, the city of Miami officially ordered that all non-essential businesses had to close in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. And, much like similar orders that were written and signed in cities across the country, it also mandated that restaurants would be limited to serving meals for takeout or delivery only.
That wasn't great timing for Brian Hill, whose new restaurant had been open for all of four days before city officials shut everything down. Hill, a celebrity chef who has appeared on Top Chef, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills, and in a not-inaccurate video where he dragged the shit out of the Ace of Cakes guy, had just launched Chef Brian Hill’s Comfort Kitchen in the Yumbrella food hall.
Hill told the Miami Herald that he'd noticed that some customers had started carrying their to-go orders to a bench near his restaurant, and they sat together while they ate. That made him wonder whether it might be possible to serve takeout in a way that was… kind of in, kind of out, allowing customers to eat together while still adhering to the city's social distancing guidelines.
He pitched his idea to Steve Simon, who owns Yumbrella and the Killer Melts restaurant that's also part of the food hall, and they came up with an idea for a 'quarantine date night' contest. Hall and Simon set two chairs six feet apart—they measured it—put a table between them, and roped off the outdoor area around it. Yumbrella started accepting applications for the promotion through its social media channels, and it promised to give one 'date' away every day for the near future.
That lasted for exactly one night, because someone called the cops, shared those Instagram posts, and reported Yumbrella for violating the city's current restrictions.
"We only redeemed the first winners, a very nice couple who were ecstatic to get out of the house for a minute," Simon told VICE. "The police didn’t visit till the next day. An officer, who we love to death and is always around our restaurant said he told the chief he would talk to us rather than send a unit. He told us that they got the call and were sent [social media] links. They said it wouldn’t be allowed to happen again."
In a now-deleted Instagram post, Yumbrella blamed a "hater" for snitching on them. "We had such a great thing going: safe, responsible, and socially distant dining," it wrote. "Our giveaway excitement has been crushed."
In another deleted post, Hill shared a video of himself delivering the meal to the couple. He wore gloves and a face mask—as did another server—and they were given plastic cutlery to go with their plastic containers. He placed all of it at the end of the table, they reached to collect it, and that was it.
Simon believes that restaurants should be given the opportunity to serve customers on-site, as long as they continue to take the necessary precautions.
"I 100% believe that in-person dining should be allowed," he said. "We’re all aware of what we need to do to protect ourselves. We are going the extra mile and have spent triple on gloves, cleaning products, sanitizers and more. Now, we have to continue to struggle to get one customer in the door."
He also has nothing to say to whoever snitched on them. "I don't have a message for the hater," he said. "They probably have never been or never planned on visiting Yumbrella anyway. They weren’t our customer. To those who loved our idea, who have supported us in the past and who’ll continue to support us in the future, we are here waiting for you and we’ll always be here for you."
Yumbrella, Killer Melts, and Chef Brian Hill’s Comfort Kitchen are all still open daily for takeout or curbside pickup.