HOW TEXAS RESTAURANTS ARE COPING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
By Robin Barr Sussman
Along with the rest of the world, Texas restaurants and bars that aren’t closing or going on hiatus are getting creative when it comes to staying afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. From online ordering to makeshift drive-throughs, recipe take-aways, booze deliveries, pop-up farm stands and restaurant grocery markets, communities are working together to support about 50,000 eateries in the Lone Star State.
In the capital of Texas, many eateries are offering take-out and pop-up grocery markets, but some have decided to close until the government lifts the restaurant ban. This allows time to develop a plan and apply for government benefits/other insurance for their companies and unemployed workers. Restaurant owners have reported conflicting or absent information on how to operate safely during the pandemic from government agencies. The industry is “still trying to figure it out,” sais Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen, who temporarily closed five of his Restaurants.
Houston’s favorite pastime is dining out, so established restaurants, wine bars and craft beer joints all jumped on the take-out bandwagon. Sixty Vines features a survival package with Wagyu steak, veggies, dessert, bottles of wine, a gallon of milk, even toilet paper! Small chains like Flower Child offered 35 percent off all food and 50 percent off bottles of wine for delivery or curbside pick-up.
Champagne fueled a’Bouzy Restaurant is selling mimosa kits with food (bubbly brunch was its specialty). “Guests are loving our Champagne and wine offerings. Also, cocktail kits that pair well with appetizers like popcorn shrimp and deviled eggs for virtual happy hours,” said Shawn Virene owner of a’Bouzy. Virene kept his managers on staff but had to furlough a portion of his team.
For James Beard awarded chef Chris Shepherd, it has been an “all-out hustle” to survive. He closed three of his four eateries and furloughed most of his hourly workers. His upscale Georgia James has consolidated its steakhouse menu with his other concepts to offer crowd-pleasing dishes and family packs you can heat and eat, including Easter dinners for four. Pappas Restaurants, owned by a local family and known for its high-end Pappas Steakhouse, has implemented strict sanitation procedures and online ordering, curbside pick-up and delivery for most of its ten-plus concepts.
Tex-Mex staple Molina’s Cantina features a large menu of family and fiesta packs that freeze well including taco packs, enchiladas, tamales and more, as well as margarita kits with set-ups (via phone or online). Arnaldo Richards’ Picos recently set up a farm stand in front of its restaurant and also offers free delivery and curbside pickup of fajita feasts and Mexican dinners. Local Foods and Coppa Ristorante have staged small walk-in markets stocked with dry goods (pasta, sauces, staples), fresh produce, meats, and prepared foods for take-out.
Popular Texas-wide Japanese-sushi hotspot Uchi and its sister Uchiba were quick to offer curbside pick-up. They got so slammed with take-out orders, now they are offering reservations for take-out times plus 25 percent off wine, sake and beer.
Amid the shutdown, some north Texas restaurants are offering free meals. “We’re offering a family meal program that’s free to the public at Hero sports bar,” said Danyele McPherson, culinary director of 8020 Hospitality. Same goes for Mudhook Bar in Kitchen in Duncanville where ISD students can eat for free during lunch hours.
Some restaurants are getting clever with grocery and pantry kits. The Rustic sells ready-to-cook meal kits for Easter and themed “quarantine and chill” kits for brunch and more, while Queenie’s Steakhouse in Denton offers a Chef Box ($55) with tenderloin steaks, garlic, chef Tim Love’s popular steak rub, dried beans, potatoes, onions and home toiletries.
Another Texas favorite that has never required a pretty plate is barbecue. An ideal food for take-out, Texans are finding these eateries open statewide for pick-up. For instance, 2M Smokehouse is offering pre-orders and delivery of orders over $100, as well as vacuum-sealed, frozen briskets available for pickup.
At Clementine, there’s a Feed Me To Go option for dinner daily. Online menus offer multiple courses (including dessert!) for $25 per person. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. At Max’s Wine Dive, specials are updated regularly, offering a bottle of wine for $30 and lasagna family deals.
Although many eateries are offering to-go options, an eerie silence has fallen on San Antonio’s historical River Walk located in the tourist district. Colorful umbrella tables dotting the river are empty and the festive tourist boats are docked. About 13 million people flock to the River Walk annually and tens of thousands of jobs depend on it. “It’s gonna be alright,” reads spray-painted graffiti on a nearby foot bridge. Here’s hoping.