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Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 9, 202105:10 AM EST

How the Mandarin Ramada is surviving, adapting to the pandemic

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Fred Pozin has new strategies for his hotel, restaurant and nightclub.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

He wouldn’t seek the title, but Fred Pozin probably is the Northeast Florida expert about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the hospitality industry.

Pozin owns and manages the Ramada by Wyndham Jacksonville Hotel and Conference Center in Mandarin.

The property includes a 150-room hotel with 10,000 square feet of meeting space; Gigi’s, a 200-seat restaurant, banquet and catering operation; and The Comedy Zone, a 300-seat nightclub.

All that business, except for booking a few hotel rooms for essential workers, ended March 20, 2020. That’s when Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the state’s restaurants and other public facilities shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We fell off the cliff,” Pozin said.

The hotel was able to open to the traveling public two months later, but the restaurant was closed until June when it reopened with seating reduced by 75% and other changes.

The weekday breakfast and lunch buffets remain suspended. Gigi’s signature weekend crab legs and prime rib buffet and the Sunday brunch have a different operations plan, Pozin said.

The salad bar is replaced by table service. Staff members on the buffet line serve the food on the guest’s plate and the tables are set up for social distancing.

“Help-yourself business is a thing of the past,” Pozin said.

Capacity in the restaurant and The Comedy Zone expanded to 50%, but the pandemic created another challenge to the hospitality industry: finding people to work.

The Ramada by Wyndham Jacksonville Hotel and Conference Center at 3130 Hartley Road in Mandarin comprises a 150-room hotel, Gigi’s restaurant and The Comedy Zone nightclub.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported in March that the pandemic cut payrolls in the leisure and hospitality sector by 10,800 jobs, more than 12% fewer workers compared with before the pandemic.

“A lot of people left the industry because they decided hospitality is too risky and they may have found some other kind of work,” Pozin said.

Payroll is part of Pozin’s strategy to sustain his business. He said with labor costs one of his biggest line items, he is watching his hiring practices to be more conservative.

He also is keeping inventory under control considering the pandemic restrictions.

“I’m careful about getting too far ahead. When the music stopped, I had a lot of food in the cooler and a lot of liquor in the liquor room and no one to consume either of them,” Pozin said.

Being able to open the restaurant and nightclub at half capacity means the property is adapting to attract customers and survive.

“It’s like opening the business all over again with the COVID protocols and the cleaning procedures,” Pozin said.

Face masks and social distancing will be the norm for the foreseeable future, along with having fewer seats to sell.

“I ask my customers to wear masks and social-distance. I think it’s the right thing to do, but when you have 100 people in a room, if they want to sit close together, that’s up to them,” Pozin said.

One bright spot in the industry is a new segment of business that has appeared because of the pandemic.

“Relocation travel is becoming big,” Pozin said.

“A lot of people want to move to Florida and there’s a lot of growth-related business.”

Another bright spot came as a surprise to Pozin, who was a member of the Duval County Tourist Development Council and helped develop Jacksonville’s annual leisure, convention and group travel marketing plan.

“Before the pandemic, I was a believer that a town worth its salt had to have a vibrant convention and group business. Now, I believe cities that depend on large convention business like Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa won’t see a recovery until 2022 or beyond. Jacksonville is basically a limited-service market with just a few convention hotels Downtown. We’ll recover more rapidly,” Pozin said.

The Ramada, Gigi’s and The Comedy Zone survived the financial downturn created for the hospitality industry by the Great Recession in 2008-09. 

Pozin said his business will survive the coronavirus, even having to administer the balance sheet with less cash flow.

“I’m more optimistic now. We’re starting to see things coming back. I think as we move into summer, it will get better,” Pozin said.

“We may have turned the corner.”

 

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