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SRQ DAILY Apr 14, 2020

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"I do this because I love making good food and sharing love through food,"

- Stefania Fochi of Empanada Girl

[The Dish]  The Empanada Girl Keeps Cooking with Home Deliveries
Andrew Fabian, andrew.fabian@srqme.com

When Stefania Fochi answers the phone on a Tuesday afternoon, she is out delivering empanadas. “I need to call you back in 6 minutes,” she says, “my GPS says I’m four minutes away from my delivery stop.” While “delivery driver” was never a job description she sought out when she founded her empanada business, The Empanada Girl, she would never have ruled it out either. She is one of those people who, with ingenuity, pluck and a little optimism, is ready for anything. So it’s no surprise that when COVID-19 made its unwelcomed visit into the Sarasota region, Fochi had no qualms about getting behind the wheel to keep her business operable and continue paying her employees’ salaries.

“I think it’s all about adapting,” she says, but laying a strong foundation down helps too. Fochi has had her production schedule operating smoothly and without the need for her constant supervision for years, and this hands-off approach meant that she could trust her team to crank out consistently delicious product day in and day out. “It allows me to focus on sales,” she says, “and 40-50% of our sales were frozen empanadas that people would take home anyways.” So, even though her restaurant accounts have died down and her farmer’s market sales are non-existent, the added boost in delivery orders has helped Fochi to avoid drastically cutting hours or furloughing workers. Of course, she would not be able to pivot and dream up new distribution methods if there was no demand, and that demand is bolstered by the deliciousness of her product.

“I do this because I love making good food and sharing love through food,” she says. And the love translates into savory pockets of baked pastries filled with all manner of meats, vegetables and spices. The spicy beef empanada is stuffed with beef, onions, yellow raisins, green olives, chunks of hard-boiled eggs, spices and a dash of cayenne pepper for some heat. Her new line of plant-based empanadas includes a spin on a traditional Argentine flavor profile, but with lentils as the hearty protein instead of beef—and she even created a vegan dough to make the line fully plant-based. Each stuffing option took Fochi years to perfect, as did her formula for the dough, which is made with Italian 00 flour for a delicate, flaky texture. 

At the moment, orders can be placed through The Empanada Girl Facebook and Instagram profile pages. Patrons can use the website for a listing of flavors and ingredients. Deliveries are made on Mondays for everything South of Downtown through Venice, and Tuesdays for everything North up to St. Pete and Tampa. And, for some good, old fashioned in-person but appropriately socially distanced purchases, the storefront at 4141 S Tamiami Trail still operates Monday-Friday from 9:30 am to 5 pm and Saturdays from 9:30 am to 4 pm. 

Pictured: Stefania Fochi. Photo by Jenny Acheson.

For more.

[Higher Education]  FSU Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship Announces New Collaborative Master's Programs

The Florida State University Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship announced the launch of two new graduate degree programs this week. Beginning this fall, the college will offer a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship (MSE) degree in Product Development and a Master of Science in Hospitality Entrepreneurship degree in conjunction with the Dedman School of Hospitality. JMC now offers three graduate programs, the first being the Textiles and Apparel Entrepreneurship master’s program, which will be offered for the second time this fall.

“These new MSE programs represent an exciting opportunity for our incoming graduate students that they can only find here at JMC,” said Jeff Whalen, JMC’s STEM Entrepreneur in Residence. “I feel very confident that future MSE graduates will raise the bar for product development and hospitality entrepreneurship in the government, corporate and professional communities.” The MSE Product Development program will focus on advanced entrepreneurial knowledge and skills for graduate students so they are equipped to bring unique value to new and existing companies working in prototyping, product design and development. Face-to-face classes offered in this program will provide students with hands-on experience to develop abilities in both innovation and commercialization of new products. The MSE Hospitality Entrepreneurship degree is an online program that focuses on real-world opportunities. Students will acquire and apply the skillsets necessary to succeed in a variety of scenarios — whether it’s starting a new venture or joining an established company. The curriculum is designed around the importance of leadership and innovative thinking. Graduates will be prepared to pursue careers in the private or public sectors, including government and academic professions.

The shared curriculum for both programs incorporates core coursework in management ethics, strategy formulation, accounting and finance, and leadership. It also includes the option to study abroad when travel conditions become safe again. International opportunities help provide students with experiences to effectively manage in an entrepreneurial and professional global workforce. Specialized curriculum also exists for each program. Coursework for the Product Development program can be completed in one-year and includes classes in product design, product development analytics, intellectual property for entrepreneurs and marketing and branding. The Hospitality Entrepreneurship degree will allow students the choice of completing the program with part- or full-time enrollment. Courses offered include entrepreneurial lodging, legal risks, hospitality financial and revenue management, and marketing strategy. “The joint master’s program between the Dedman School of Hospitality and the JMC will give students the skills they need to take advantage of today’s dynamic, entrepreneurial environment in the hospitality industry,” said Lydia Hanks, the J. Willard Marriott Sr. Professor in Hospitality.

“Whether their dream is to open a restaurant, run their own Airbnb enterprise or captain a fleet of deep-sea fishing tour boats, this program will prepare them for the financial and operational challenges that lie ahead. The advanced coursework will teach them how to identify opportunities, make discerning business decisions, and set themselves up for success in the hospitality industry and beyond.”

Applications for all MSE programs are accepted annually with a July 1 deadline. 

For more info.

[Virtual Performances]  Shakespeare in the Gardens: Romeo and Juliet

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training are thrilled to bring William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to you. The well-known play was set to premiere at Selby Gardens this April, but due to COVID-19, the highly anticipated outdoor theatre event, Shakespeare in the Gardens, was canceled. We are grateful to Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, and Gulf Coast Community Foundation for their generous support of Shakespeare in the Gardens. In a collaborative effort with the Conservatory to “Bring Selby Gardens to You,” three monologues from the famous play were recorded within our beloved Gardens for you to enjoy at home. 

Watch Shakespeare in the Gardens.

[Airport Traffic ]  SRQ Passenger Traffic Down 23% In March Due To COVID-19

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) passenger traffic saw a decrease of 22.6% for March with 153,246 passengers traveling through SRQ, the majority being recorded in the first half of the month. Prior to this month’s decrease, the airport experienced 24 straight months of increased passenger traffic. Year-to-date, airport passenger traffic is up 23% for the first three months of 2020 with 611,450 passengers using SRQ.

“With the spread of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, along with stay-at-home orders implemented throughout the country, the airport has experienced a sharp decline in passengers and air service. Passenger traffic is expected to be down 95% in April as the full effects of the decline in travel are experienced for the full month. With many of SRQ’s nine air carriers applying for Federal grant money under the CARES Act, the airport expects to maintain a minimal level of service to multiple destinations as the country transitions through this pandemic. We know it is going to be painful for the next couple of months as the entire country works to contain and reverse the spread of COVID-19. During this time, the airport plans to proceed with construction projects that would otherwise be very difficult to complete when high volumes of travelers are using the airport. These projects include repaving the short and long-term parking lots, renovating the screening checkpoint area, and completing airfield projects that require partial closures of taxiways and runways. We are also increasing the number of janitorial employees and instituting cleaning procedures that meet or exceed those outlined in CDC guidance. It is important that we create an environment where our customers can go from the parking lot to the aircraft in a clean, efficient, and easy to transition setting. We will continue to maintain and operate the airport during this difficult time so that quality air transportation remains available and accessible to our local community” said Rick Piccolo, President, CEO of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. 

[Manufacturing]  Cruise Car Splits Shifts, Responds To Demand For National Medic Carts

Sarasota-based Cruise Car is adapting to manufacturing under social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic while handling increased demand for its carts for medical uses. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Cruise Car has been building and delivering to Veteran’s Administration facilities nationwide, large medical centers, university campuses and large corporations, such as AMR (American Emergency Response Inc.)

Cruise Car is using its custom-building abilities to create street-legal, low-speed vehicles that can accept and transport ambulance grade OEM stretchers (e.g. Stryker & Ferno). This allows spread-out facilities such as university and medical campuses to quickly and easily transport an injured or ill person. The company builds four varieties of the ambulatory medic carts and is producing up to 100 vehicles per month. “During the last few weeks, our focus has been building critical vehicles for essential government agencies to support their emergency fleet operations,” said Nathan Kalin, President of Cruise Car.

The company has been able to continue manufacturing by splitting its workforce into two isolated shifts, with one half the manufacturing employees working three 10-hour days and then the next half working three 10-hour days. During the day, the crews follow strict social distancing protocols and every night the facility undergoes a full wipe down with sanitizers and cleaning agents before workers leave for the day. Even the company owners, Adam Sulimirski, CEO, and Kalin are assigned to different teams. This allows the company to minimize interaction. If someone tests positive for the virus, that crew self-quarantines, but the other crew can continue working. No inter-team contact is allowed, and the office staff is encouraged to work remotely whenever possible.

“Our top concern is our employees’ health, but our team is really happy to work and to do their part to help mitigate this crisis,” Sulimirski said. “We’ve seen many of them step up big time into leadership roles. They feel empowered and they’re showing up with ‘can do’ attitudes. It’s a great feeling. I couldn’t be more proud of them.” Cruise Car has started offering enrichment programs to employees for their off days — business and self-improvement books and books on audio, online courses, software training, and so on, to allow their people to take advantage of their downtime and sharpen their personal skill sets. 

For more info.

[Virtual Support]  Virtual Interviews and Matches for the Children Who Need Us The Most

More than 1,800 children have a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast. However, during these uncertain times, their routines of walking on the beach, playing at the park, watching a movie or just hanging out have changed.  Jeanie Baik, Vice President for Programs and Volunteer Experience for the agency, said Bigs and Littles are staying in touch. "We're encouraging Bigs and Baik to continue to stay in touch. We are hosting virtual interviews and providing internal processing through a variety of online mechanisms based on the client’s familiarity and comfort level and what type of phones they have. We have also started doing virtual match support with our families-the visual simply helps keep the connections alive even for existing matches and helps with the social isolation,” said Baik. Bigs are there to guide their Littles. For children, any disruption in their life is a cause for concern. With something like this, something they have never experienced before, they’re really looking for those people in their lives right now that can provide that guidance and be that role model and mentor they need. Instead of in-person fingerprinting Big Brothers Big Sisters is utilizing Sterling Volunteers to run State and Federal background checks, as child safety remains number one. Virtual orientation sessions have proven successful, where the participants have signed up for a virtual interview to become a Big. The organization is still taking applications for volunteers. There is a background check and, for now, virtual interviews. For further information or if you wish to help, please contact Rose Bloch at rbloch@bbbssun.org

For over 50 years, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast has been matching youth in meaningful, enduring, professionally supported mentoring relationships with adult volunteers who defend their potential and help them achieve their biggest possible futures. Big Brothers Big Sisters’ evidence-based approach is designed to create positive youth outcomes, including educational success, avoidance of risky behaviors, higher aspirations, greater confidence, and improved relationships. This past year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast has served over 1,800 youth across a 10 county footprint. 

Get involved.

[Virtual Performances]  Music Moves Us With John Miller & More

Sarasota Orchestra invites the community to enjoy a musical respite. Take a break in John Miller’s music room, where he introduces viewers to the instrumental comparisons that reside there. Not only do his guitars and basses bring up happy memories with family, they also connect the dots in John’s development as a professional bassist who is fluent in many styles. He performs his own electric bass arrangement of Billie Holidays tune, “God Bless The Child.” These video vignettes represent Sarasota Orchestra’s musicians’ gratitude for the arts community and a commitment to keep the music playing when the world needs it most. View more at the online home of Music Moves Us, Sarasota Orchestra’s campaign to share music’s healing power during this period of social distancing. 

For more on Music Moves Us.

[Loans]  Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Awards More Than 1,000 Small Business Bridge Loans

This past Saturday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced more than 1,000 small businesses have been awarded more than $49 million from the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan. The bridge loan program, managed by DEO, provides short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses that experienced economic injury from COVID-19. Additionally, DEO announced the availability of business resources to help businesses recovering from the economic impacts resulting from COVID-19. “We appreciate Governor DeSantis’ steadfast commitment to helping small businesses sustain the economic impacts created by COVID-19,” said Ken Lawson, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “We are proud to stand with Florida businesses by providing them with additional resources during these challenging times. We appreciate the help of our Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan partners, Florida Small Business Development Center and Florida First Capital Finance Corporation, for working diligently to process applications and provide loans as quickly as possible.”

Since the application period opened on March 17, DEO has received more than 38,000 applications for the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan. As of Friday, April 10, 2020, more than 1,000 applications have been approved totaling more than $49 million. DEO will continue to review all applications that are received online or postmarked by Monday, April 13, 2020. DEO and its Emergency Bridge Loan partners will continue to quickly and efficiently review, approve and provide loans to Florida businesses affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19 until available funds are expended. Businesses who are looking for information about the status of their application should visit www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19 and select Check Application Status under Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan to sign-in to your account. 

For more info.

[COVID-19 Support]  USDA Unveils Tool to Help Rural Communities Address the COVID-19 Pandemic

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today unveiled a one-stop-shop of federal programs that can be used by rural communities, organizations and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 Federal Rural Resource Guide is a first-of-its-kind resource for rural leaders looking for federal funding and partnership opportunities to help address this pandemic. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities preparing for and impacted by COVID-19,” Perdue said. “This resource guide will help our rural leaders, whether they are in agriculture, education, health care or any other leadership capacity, understand what federal assistance is available for their communities during this unprecedented time.” USDA has taken many immediate actions to assist farmers, ranchers, producers, rural communities, and rural-based businesses and organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For the resource guide and more info.

[COVID-19 Support]  Jax Kar Wash Offers Free Wash on Wednesday

Jax Kar Wash in Bradenton, Florida is offering free car washes this Wednesday, April 15, 2020. They have also implemented a sanitation service (Sanity System) available to all customers and free to Unlimited Pass Members, first responders, military and healthcare professionals. This service kills bacteria, mold, and viruses (including Covid-19) on all surfaces. It will also remove bad odors from smoking, food, animals, etc., in only 20 minutes. “As an ongoing effort in Safely Serving Our Manatee County Community, we’re washing cars for free all day this Wednesday. This will sanitize the exterior surface in the event your vehicle came in contact with a person who had the covid-19 virus,” said Tony Milen, Owner of Jax Kar Wash.  “An EPA study concludes that this new coronavirus can stay on metal, glass, and plastic surfaces for up to nine days. As a community service, an exterior carwash is an essential part of our fight against this epidemic. While our interior Sanity ozone machines have been real busy sanitizing first responder’s, healthcare professionals and our Unlimited Pass Members vehicles for free, this service is also available to the public for $30 and ½ off for Uber, Lyft and delivery drivers,” Milen added. Jax will also be giving away custom made American flag masks to the first 100 customers this Wednesday. Hours of operation are Monday thru Saturday 8-6 and Sunday 8-5. Jax is located at 6415 SR 64 E, just west of I-75 on the north side. 

For more info.

[Wellness]  Brain Health Benefits of Kindness and Compassion

From a brain health perspective, it is essential to support the many who are coping with anxiety over the health of their families and loved ones, as well as the economic and multiple other individual impacts of the pandemic. To this effort, the Brain Health Initiative will continue to offer BRAIN HEALTH BOOSTS, resources, tools and tips to stand up for your health and fight against illness. Today, the Brain Health Initiative is focusing on the brain healthy behaviors of compassion and kindness and how these actions can improve your health and fight illness. Compassion enables you to understand yourself and others more as you seek to relieve suffering. Thinking about other people's suffering, and not just your own, helps to put everything in perspective. Beyond individual benefits of living a life of kindness and compassion, research shows these behaviors can be inspiring and also have a ripple effect to the entire community. The research demonstrates that seeing one person help another person creates a heightened state of well-being, or elevation in both the giver and receiver. Not only do we feel an increase in positive emotions when we watch a compassionate act, but we are then more likely to act with compassion ourselves. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic and how have we responded? With an outpouring of kindness and compassion. In our families, our neighborhoods, communities and in the workplace, people are working to get through this uncertain time — together.

Compassion abounds in Manatee and Sarasota counties for residents who are feeling the direct impact of COVID-19. Volunteers are making personal protective equipment and children are creating art for health care workers and first responders. Restaurants and businesses are providing food and supplies to people in need. Members of the arts community and social service organizations are using technology to deliver their programs and services to those with interest or need. Philanthropists and foundations are establishing funds to support businesses and workers who are feeling the economic impact of quarantine and social distancing. The potential benefit of a compassionate culture to the community is huge. From a brain health perspective, by continuing to respond with kindness and compassion, we end up protecting our individual and community brain and physical health. In addition to lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and strengthening the immune system, compassion boosts our sense of well-being. Connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better health and speeds up recovery from disease. It also builds resilience to the current stressors, and may even lengthen our life. Compassion is an intervention that protects brain health and a preventive measure against brain illness at the individual and community level.  

Click for COVID-19 Webinar: April 15 at Noon "Remaining In Control of Our Emotions"

SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine. Note: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. Senior Editor Jacob Ogles edits the Saturday Perspective Edition, Letters and Guest Contributor columns.In the CocoTele department, SRQ DAILY is providing excerpts from news releases as a public service. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by SRQ DAILY. The views expressed by individuals are their own and their appearance in this section does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising and sponsored content opportunities, please contact Ashley Ryan Cannon at 941-365-7702 x211 or via email

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