Food halls -- designed for social gathering -- face unique obstacles while reopening

Sparkman Wharf in Tampa’s Channelside neighborhood reopened Tuesday. It features an assortment of food containers, similar to food trucks, but in brightly colored shipping containers.

Celebrity Chef Art Smith, posed for photographs outside Splitsville, the neighborhood’s oldest restaurant.

“I always found that food in good times, food in difficult times, it’s just so important. And food is always that common thread that brings us all together,” says Smith, who was here helping tweak Splitsville’s Southern Social menu.

Sparkman Wharf’s reopening follows another non-traditional food venue, Armature Works. The large food hall in Tampa Heights reopened last week with reduced seating, social distancing, and numerous handwashing stations.

Ali Robertson and Coleman Bahr sat with their computers at Armature Works. Bahr says he feels safe.

“Almost safer now than before because you know they’re going the extra mile,” says Bahr.

Places with multiple vendors like Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf often have an extra layer of requirements from the landlord.

At Sparkman Wharf the landlord, SPP, checks that all vendors follow the CDC and city of Tampa guidelines. It’s a similar situation at Armature Works. 

All employees are required to wear masks and get their temperatures checked prior to the beginning of their shift. Guests are asked to stay six feet apart, and there will also be hand sanitizer stations throughout the area.

“For the whole hall there are rules that we all have to follow,” says Joel Davis, owner of Union Coffee and Tea at Armature Works. “For me my biggest concern as a business owner is the safety of my staff and the safety of our customers.”

Armature Works has decreased the number of tables inside and increased seating outside along the Hillsborough River.

Sparkman Wharf has closed its bar in the center of the complex but has spaced chairs along the waterfront at the port.

Like traditional restaurants, the areas alternative eateries are hoping people feel safe enough to go out for dinner.

Splitsville announced layoffs in March. At the time, the company said it was letting go hourly employees to allow them to take advantage of unemployment benefits and any other government assistance that will come available because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bowling alley will have disposable menus and spaced-out tables. The company said bowling balls will be sanitized after every game.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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