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Duffy's North Miami Beach

For weather junkies, the history of the Florida shoreline is like sugar to a sweet tooth. Going as far back as 1941, sites like Weather Underground track the winds, rain and other atmospheric phenomenon for locales including the Sunshine State, which always seems to be in the climate crosshairs.

Every year a new weather pattern emerges to jar Florida businesses into the frenetic pace we see on television, forecasters huddling in windbreakers, ominous waves crashing in the background. However dramatized such coverage may seem, these storms are cause for real alarm. The cost of severe weather to a South Florida restaurant can be catastrophic, especially when owners haven’t properly planned for extreme conditions. But thanks to leaders in the industry who have perfected the art of planning, especially in the Miami area, crazy weather is all part of operating in one of the world’s hottest destinations.

The Florida-based Duffy’s Sports Grill business (pictured above) encompasses 34 full-service, casual-dining restaurants throughout the state, and has been operating since 1985, helping make it the largest family-owned and operated restaurant group in the Southeast. Jason Emmett, president of Duffy’s Sports Grill, is accustomed to the hiccups that happen when hurricane season roars into town.


“For us, even the major hurricanes we’ve seen, the most damage has been to awnings and signage, which are the most expensive items we have outdoors, with the biggest one in North Miami during the last hurricane that ripped the awning clean off,” says Emmett, who remembers how one moment the awning was there, and the next, it had simply vanished. “We have gotten used to the fact that the televisions outside don’t survive, and especially the Orlando and Miami locations, in particular, received a lot of damage from the last storm.”

For Miami’s restaurants, flood insurance is often a requirement. Emmett says his company may even be over-insured. His first recommendation is never to under-insure, but it boils down to confirming that mechanisms are in place to help his staff members cope with a storm’s aftermath.

“Inside the restaurant, anything that’s touching the ground, and the coolers, are the biggest things we worry about, so for us, it’s all about planning. But the real damage for us is lost time,” he says. “First and foremost, we want to get our employees to safety, and next, to be able to contact them for getting back open again because everyone wants to come back to work.”

Customers always want to know: Is an establishment even open? Does it have power? What menu items are available? Emmett says as part of their management process, the company puts out an extensive hurricane protection plan annually that addresses those issues.

“Losing power is the biggest reason we lose days and can’t operate so that’s also why it is important as try to get back up and running, even with a limited menu, and our communities are so grateful, constantly thanking us for being open,” he says. “People are so happy to get out after being cooped up after a storm, especially when they don’t have power at home, so they have come to know they can count on Duffy’s.”


Emmett, who serves on a local tourism board, also says nothing lasts forever in a saltwater environment, so while he purchases higher quality outdoor tables and chairs, when it comes to expensive outdoor-rated, weather-proof televisions, he has found it more economical to just replace the regular TVs more often.

In a region where the air itself can have a damaging effect on restaurant equipment and furnishings, many managers turn to design experts for advice. Celebrity interior designer Wilfredo Emanuel is one of South Florida’s busiest designers. He has a special affinity for Miami, where he advises restaurateurs to embrace clean and contemporary tendencies in preparation for bad weather that’s sure to return, year after year.

“It’s about clean lines and strong foundations made beautiful with accents that you can remove when the storms come,” says Emanuel, who is known for turning even the plainest spaces into showstoppers. “For example, striking cushions can transform a space and you can use the same fabric used for sails on boats to extend the life of them.”

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Emanuel also advises his clients to consider cement cubes that will stay put and look sleek, while bringing in colors that change with the time and the season.

“Never use cheap, lightweight furniture, because it literally will blow away in Florida during the rainy season – but an even better idea is to use the structure and architecture of your restaurant without having to buy furniture for it,” says Emanuel. “Even a wall of cement extending out from a building can double as seating area, and then you can also use lighting, even the newer lighting options that shine upward from the floor to create a beautiful mood without risking your investment in outdoor design elements during bad weather.”

“Darwin said it best in that it is not the strongest who survive, but those who adapt the quickest, so customize, personalize and do not be afraid to adjust as you go along.” – Acqualina Resort general manager Christof Pignet


Emanuel says it’s all about creating ambiance in South Florida. And no resort does that better than the otherworldly Acqualina Resort and Spa. Here, general manager Christof Pignet knows the Florida shoreline’s unpredictability all too well. Guests flock to his beachfront resort for the postcard ocean views that are also subject to inclement weather. For starters, he says, knowledge is power.

Wilfredo Emanuel
Wilfredo Emanuel

“It is essential to be equipped with the latest and most up-to-date information with respect to weather patterns and formations, so we monitor these frequently and closely to ensure ample preparedness,” says Pignet. “Select team members subscribe to alerts not only for rain, but also temperatures, winds, gusts and other factors involving the pool and beach experience.”

Acqualina’s high standards are apparent.

“Part of the allure is true elegance on the beach, reflective of the Mediterranean flair of the resort throughout the property, particularly in the furnishings that complement our brand, so they are sourced from ultra-luxury suppliers,” says Pignet. “Despite the furniture being crafted for this space, we still take additional precautions, and upon rapidly approaching weather, a notification is sent to all Acqualina staff members who immediately rush to ready the property and brace for whatever is on the horizon.”

Pignet has a piece of advice for hospitality entrepreneurs considering Florida for a new venture: Weather will play a huge role, like it or not.

“Think about all the possible scenarios and how it can affect your customer experience, your sales and revenues, as well as your equipment and maintenance expenditures, because careful and considerate decisions in the planning stages can alleviate a lot of headaches down the road,” he says. “Darwin said it best in that it is not the strongest who survive, but those who adapt the quickest, so customize, personalize and do not be afraid to adjust as you go along.

Written by   |  
Kelly Merritt has been specializing in freelance culinary travel writing since 1999. Her work has appeared in Southern Living, Forbes Travel, Plate Magazine, OpenTable, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, South Magazine and Florida Weekly. She is the author of "The Everything Family Guide to Budget Travel" (Simon and Schuster) and the novel "FLIGHT" about the adventures of fictitious travel writer Kate Carrington. In her career Kelly has written about many famous faces including Oscar de la Renta, Larry King, Tim Tebow, Kenny Chesney, Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard, design superstar Colin Cowie, celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and bestselling authors Heather Graham, Kathy Reichs and Sandra Brown, among numerous others. Kelly curates a partial collection of her articles which number in the thousands at PotluckLife.com along with her author website, KellyMerrittBooks.com.
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