DILLON BASSE / For the News-Leader
At 50, Amy Petroy had her midlife crisis. For 27 years prior, her job in computers allowed her to travel the world, marry the love of her life, and live a comfortable lifestyle doing so. Even with all Petroy had accomplished, she still felt like there was something missing from her life. In 2009, she and her husband were on a business trip to California when they stopped in a crepe restaurant. Amy fell in love with it right away. She knew immediately what that missing thing in her life was.
“I told my husband I know what I want to do,” Petroy said. “I want to do crepes with international flavors and I want to bring to this small community different parts of the world I’ve traveled to and just let them experience it.”
The Patio Place opened in 2016. For years, business was thriving. Just this year, they were able to expand their beer and wine selection to a full bar with their newly purchased liquor license. However, the progress was put on hold in mid-March when the first rules about social distancing were put in place. Luckily, The Patio Place has outdoor seating so the initial guidelines didn’t hit them too hard. After about a week however, panic began to set in, and on Friday, March 20, they received news that onsite dining would be shut down, though the restaurant would be able to continue offering their dishes for to-go orders.
Petroy was more than prepared for the inevitable chaos. On March 17 – when they received news about social distancing requirements – she predicted that eventually everything would be shut down, so she came up with a plan to serve customers through a to-go window located on the side of her restaurant. That very same night, she and her husband prepped the window service and laid brick for five hours straight. When the news came in on Friday at 2 p.m. about shutting down, she immediately pushed out on all social media platforms that her window was open for business.
“I called myself the local grocer,” said Petroy. “Within a few days, I was selling everything from lunch meats and beer out the window to handheld crepes and eggs. When I saw the shortage of toilet paper, I immediately ordered a case of toilet paper and sold 200 rolls in less than 24 hours. My goal was to do what the community needed.”
The Fernandina Beach community means everything to Petroy. All of her employees are a part of that community, so Petroy also did everything she could to make sure they would be taken care of. After two weeks of serving through her window and having a limited staff, she shut everything down altogether because she knew that she would be getting help from the Paycheck Protection Program she had applied for. She hadn’t realized that most of her staff wasn’t aware of this, so she sent out an email to all of them assuring them they would be taken care of.
“I told my employees I would not miss payroll and that they would continue to get paid during the shutdown,” she said. “Everyone received a paycheck, even my teenage employees. I used the PPP to do exactly what it was meant for, and for five weeks of the shutdown I was able to give my workers at least 75% of what they would have made had we been open.”
Petroy wanted to keep people’s spirits high throughout the first few weeks of the pandemic, but since she couldn’t physically reach them, she turned to social media. She noticed that most social media posts were extremely negative because of the current situation.
“I’m a bit of a goof,” said Petroy. “I would post videos of me juggling toilet paper and eggs and I did get people reaching out telling me that throughout all this craziness it was fun to see me doing my thing.”
Now that the business is open again, Petroy is using social media to show how safe her restaurant is and how much she cares about her customers’ safety. She described the steps she took to make sure everything was safe down to the smallest details.
“Before we opened up, I sat down with the manager and asked myself how the virus could spread here,” she said. “I literally walked through the front gate and tried to pretend I was a customer.”
Some of the changes included new plastic menu covers and a spot for dirty menus to be wiped off after being used just once. She doubled the amount of silverware so that they could make it through service without stopping to clean all the time. Right when a customer walks through the door, they grab their own silverware and their own menu. Petroy taught every employee new ways to take finished plates from customers and how to wipe down almost every inch of the seating area.
“Customers told us we were doing it right,” she said. “The overall response from the community was very positive and people were just really happy to go out to eat again.”
Petroy advises other small business owners to open up cautiously but to make sure they are being positive for their customers. People walking into a restaurant for the first time in months don’t want to think about what’s going on in the world any more than they already have to. If they are out spending money at a restaurant they clearly are trying to go back to some form of normalcy.
“My saying now to everyone who walks in is ‘Are you healthy, are you wealthy, and are you wise?’” said Petroy. “It makes them laugh every time.”
It’s this kind of attitude and liveliness that brings people to the Patio Place. Petroy’s positivity has always been contagious and it’s the kind of energy that can only be found in small businesses like The Patio Place.
Editor’s note: Dillon Basse grew up on Amelia Island and recently graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in communications.