ORLANDO, Fla. – Mark Cavallini opened the doors to Cavo’s Bar and Kitchen Jan. 1, 2020, serving up a good time and dishes inspired by his hometown of Philadelphia.
“We pride ourselves on being a neighborhood bar. We got the best cheesesteak in the state of Florida. I’ll put it up against anyone’s,” Cavallini said.
But only 2 1/2 months later, reality hit as COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
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“Obviously, the honeymoon period was good. We built a really cool network with the neighbors in the neighborhood in downtown Orlando in general, only to be shut down on the 17th of March, which was St Patrick’s Day,” Cavallini said.
It was a day when time almost stood still, according to Cavallini.
“It was chaotic and scary. I don’t know, it almost felt like a dream. It was weird. Even like outside, the air felt different. It was weird. Strange day,” he said.
Mark Cavallini. (WKMG)
One of the biggest struggles for bar and restaurant owners was keeping their employees.
“It was tough. We had to furlough them and start doing to-go orders. And then, you know, I let these guys pick up anything that I that I could have on the side,” Cavallini said.
During this tough time, friends of Cavallini called to check in on him, asking if he thought that the bar would survive. Cavallini, unsure, told them “I don’t know.”
Those conversations inspired a movement.
“A couple of days later, I woke up to about $1,200 in my Venmo or PayPal,” he said with a smile on his face.
After a little research, he found out the money came from his friend, a police officer from Philadelphia. But this money was no charity, it came with a catch.
“It wasn’t a donation to you, it’s a win-win scenario where you can take this money and allocate meals to first responders,” Cavallini recounted.
From Philadelphia to Thornton Park, the word of his mission caught on and it gained momentum.
“We were kind of blown away. After it kinda caught news around the neighborhood, we ended up raising, I believe, a total of $7,800,” Cavallini said.
Each dollar went to local heroes on the front line, as promised.
“A couple of the evening shifts, police officers, they all — like the whole squad — would come up and grab their food and say thank you. So that was also neat. It was awesome to see that they appreciate it,” Cavallini said.
And that appreciation was mutual for Cavallini and the rest of the family at Cavo’s Bar and Kitchen.
When asked if he feels like a hero in the pandemic, he shook his head.
“No, no, no. It was really, it was a community. We just provided the venue, or the vessel, to let other people help each other. And we were just proud to be a part of that,” he said.
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