As the Omicron variant began to catch on late last year, bar owner Lee Daugherty grew concerned. He began to implement serious protocols among his staff at Alexandre, his establishment in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas, including bi-weekly testing.
It wasn’t long before someone tested positive for COVID-19.
“We flagged down a bartender, before the shift,” Daughtery said. “And we started hearing that customers were getting it, and it was basically in the community.”
Alexandre had already closed for more than 400 days during the first wave of the pandemic. In December, Daughtery once again found herself having to make a difficult decision.
“I went to the workers there and said, ‘Listen, we need to talk. Our mitigation strategies are not working. What do you all want to do? ‘” Daughtery said.
The staff made him an offer.
“They said, ‘Look, you know, cut New Year’s Eve down. We will. But would you mind closing the bar in January, until this surge is over? And I accepted their proposal, we put them all on paid sick leave, and we close.”
Alexandre’s is just one of many restaurants and bars across Texas that have been forced to temporarily close — for days, a week, sometimes longer — as this latest wave of COVID-19 leads to staff and staff shortages. other challenges.
Emily Williams Knight, CEO of Texas Restaurant Association, said he has seen this happen in all types of restaurants, from large chains to small establishments. Some have been forced to close one day a week or limit their opening hours.
“In some cases they can come in, and maybe that day they’re lucky enough to have enough staff, but they don’t get delivery of supplies because there’s no one at the company. delivery, you know, to the supplier to bring the merchandise into his restaurant, so he is forced to close, ”she added.
Knight said it wasn’t just a temporary problem. She predicts that the current surge in COVID-19 cases will most likely lead to the permanent closure of thousands of Texas restaurants.
“I think after Delta, a lot of restaurants, including the Association, really believed that we were going in the right direction,” Knight said, adding that about 9,000 restaurants in the state have already closed permanently since. the start of the pandemic.
“And so Omicron strikes right at the most critical time, which is during the holidays, coupled with both the labor shortage and the supply chain disruption I think that he really put an almost triple threat on restaurants,” she said. “And a lot of them, unfortunately, won’t make it.”
Knight said his association is currently work with members of Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help 12,000 Texas restaurants who applied for the federal grant program last year. The program ran out of money before these companies could receive funds.
Still, Knight feels things are starting to turn the corner with Omicron.
Meanwhile, some Texas restaurants and bars fared better, such as Willie’s Grill & Icehouse.
“Our sales have actually — you know, knock on wood — been positive throughout COVID and even since this last surge,” said Marty Wadsworth, the chain’s vice president of marketing.
Willie’s has more than a dozen locations across Texas, including the Houston, San Antonio and Austin areas. Wadsworth said they’ve been doing pretty well so far. The chain just opened its 19th location in Pearland this month.
Wadsworth said he could attribute Willie’s success to a number of things, including their COVID-19 protocols and the decision to change their service model entirely during the pandemic, which allowed them to retain staff.
“We’ve actually been really lucky as a brand, no matter how ramped up, just because our concept was built on patios, so at least 30% of our footprint is patios,” Wadsworth said. “Like any traditional cooler, we have garage doors in every unit. So when the weather is nice, we open those garage doors and our property looks like an indoor-outdoor dining room.”
KP’s Kitchen in Houston is also seeing more positive results, after making similar changes to its service model.
“We moved tables from inside to outside,” said Kerry Pauly, who has worked in the hospitality industry for more than two decades and opened the restaurant during the pandemic.
“We had a side patio to start with, then we pulled tables outside into the front area to create more patio seating,” Pauly added. “We brought air purifiers to help clear the air, and I think that may be one of the reasons why some of our employees and others didn’t get sick.”
Still, Pauly said his restaurant has not been without pandemic difficulties.
“We’ve struggled to find food and employees, like every other restaurant in the industry, but it’s worth seeing the smiles on people’s faces as we serve a quality product,” said Pauly said. “But, luckily for us, we kind of dodged a bullet.”
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