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Uncertainty for hospitality businesses across US ahead of reopenings

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Roland Semaan and Mark Leggett are two hospitality industry leaders from completely different states and types of service. But their journeys through the coronavirus pandemic, including their plans to get out of the extensive lockdown it prompted, are quite similar — they are marked by cautious reopening strategies.

Semaan is the founder and owner of the New York City restaurants Balade, a Middle Eastern sit-down restaurant, and Balade Your Way, a fast-casual Middle Eastern eatery. Leggett is the president and CEO of Arthur’s Events and Catering in Orlando, Fla. As social distancing mandates began, both businesses wildly transformed.

Semaan had to furlough a majority of his workers and opted to consolidate his two restaurants into one kitchen.

“We started delivering to neighbors, around the city, and to hospitals from one central kitchen with a short, limited staff, including myself,” Semaan told Fox News. “I was working on the line with my staff to be here and to give them some motivation.”

Leggett told Fox News that his catering business thrives on large group gatherings of between 50 to 500 people, and that he employs about 180 people including bartenders, servers, and culinary staff. Everything changed for him during the weekend of March 13, when social distancing rules started to be put into place.

“Within about 24 to 36 hours, we had to figure [out] what we could do to survive,” explained Leggett. “We decided that we would do a family home delivery package with dinners for two to six people. We're operating at about probably 10 percent of the capacity that we used to, but it certainly is filling a gap.”

Despite losing revenue streams, both men have been integrating community service into their businesses and giving back to first responders. Leggett told Fox News that Arthur’s is working with a number of nonprofits to send meals to health care workers at local Orlando hospitals. Semaan has reached out and delivered food to Mount Sinai and NYU hospitals’ first responders.

“I delivered food to the COVID-19 squad at one of the hospitals and seeing all of these people made me break down and cry,” said Semaan. “Because this is what I do, and this is why I’m in the hospitality industry.”

As plans to reopen approach, both Semaan and Legget are cautious. Leggett explained to Fox News that he is going to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and work smaller events.

“If we're doing events for 10 to 20 people, then we'll do events for 10 to 20 people,” said Leggett. “We're not 100 percent sure what the situation is going to be.”

In New York, the stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 15, while Florida’s is set to expire on April 30.

Semaan has already started preparing for reopening. He said he’s put stickers on the floors of his restaurants to ensure social distancing, bought hand sanitizer to provide to customers and employees, and purchased thermometers to monitor his employees’ health. In addition, he said at Balade they won't take reservations and are going to do 50 percent seating at the beginning to ensure that diners are comfortable.

Both restaurateurs echoed the uncertainty of the situation and their desire to rehire their employees.

“There's a lot of uncertainty and that’s the piece we're most concerned about, especially for our furloughed employees,” said Leggett. “We have 150 furloughed employees who desperately want to come back to work, and we desperately want to get them back to work.”

Semaan said that a large portion of his staff filed for unemployment, but he hopes they won’t have to collect for much longer.

“Hopefully, I'll be able to bring them all back,” said Semaan. “We worked together for a very long time, I hope we’ll all be back together and be stronger because of this.”

For more from Mark Leggett and Roland Semaan’s plans on reopening, watch the full interview above.

 Emily DeCiccio is a reporter and video producer for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio.