DALLAS — The Texas Restaurant Association says it expects less than 50% of Texas restaurants to reopen on Friday as the state phases in a cautious soft-re-opening while the COVID-19 crisis continues.
And Bucky Pugh is ready.
"Oh I'm ecstatic," the owner of Bucky Moonshine's Southern Eats and Bar said. "I serve food to people and for 45 days today I haven't gotten to do that and I really, really miss that."
Thursday afternoon his staff -- all in masks and protective gloves -- were busy cleaning and re-cleaning the restaurant in Deep Ellum. He will abide by the states mandated 25% occupancy rule.
In what he calls his a four-phase plan, Bucky Moonshine's will offer to-go orders, outside seating at newly purchased picnic tables, inside seating at the restaurant patio, and properly spaced tables in the dining area. Hand sanitizer stations will be available, staff will wear masks, and the menus will be disposable -- printed on paper.
"I hope people come out and I hope people come out in droves," said Pugh. "I mean if I'm 25% full, I'd still like to 75% of the business I'd normally used to do. I'll accommodate you any way you possibly want. I just want to be in business. I want to serve people food."
In another Dallas neighborhood -- Uptown -- on Thursday afternoon, a car crash happened in front of fine-dining restaurant Salum. As one of the Texas restaurants choosing not to reopen on Friday, chef Abraham Salum is hoping to avoid a similar collision with COVID-19.
"It's a little worrisome," he said. "We all want to go back to being open of course. But we want to open feeling safe."
His dining room is small, with a capacity of 84 people. Limiting clientele to just 25% capacity would be just 21 people at a time, not enough to pay for the electricity and to power the oven.
Salum did receive a PPP loan to pay salaries for his staff of 20 employees for two and a half months. In a restaurant that size, he's not comfortable opening until he gets more assurances from doctors and experts that he, his staff, and his patrons will be safe.
"I don't feel safe. I don't think my staff doesn't feel safe. And I don't think the clientele feels safe. Most people are not going to come out yet," he said.
For now he will continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery, something he says his loyal clientele has continued to support.
Offering other percentages to consider, the Texas Restaurant Association says it believes 2% of Texas restaurants have already closed permanently. And they understand the difficult choice the surviving restaurant owners face in deciding what to do on Friday.
"We know that 25% occupancy or even 50% occupancy is not a sustainable business model for our restaurants," said Texas Restaurant Association president and CEO Emily Williams Knight. "But we also know that for many of them this allows them to kind of get their toe in the water and begin this kind of soft opening process."
To encourage both restaurant owners and clientele that safety is the top priority moving forward, the TRA issued the Texas Restaurant Promise.
It says member restaurants will:
- Make employees pass health checks
- Have hand sanitizer or washing stations available,
- Follow social distancing rules
- Have place settings, utensils, and menus that are either single-use or cleaned and sanitized after every use
The promise also asks customers to be honest about any potential COVID-19 symptoms and to abide by social distancing guidelines intended to keep them safe.
The slow re-opening of Texas restaurants is a test case. If it goes well, restaurants can go up to 50% capacity as early as May 18, per Gov. Greg Abbott's guidelines.
Salum hopes, for himself and his staff of 20, that he will be able to be among those restaurants open by then.
"But we need to do it safe," he said. "Because if we lose someone, it's our whole world."
And industry leaders say it make take months for that confidence, and financial health, to return.
More on reopening in Texas:
- Here’s what is reopening in Texas as Phase 1 begins Friday
- Businesses that sell more alcohol than food are not allowed to open in Texas but some plan to open anyway
- Texas retailers weigh how to reopen during a pandemic
- Right on the Money: How online ordering has saved Dickey's Barbecue Pit
- Catholics can return to pews but Fort Worth and Dallas dioceses differ on conducting mass