'This is an Absolute Kick in the Grapes': Dallas Restaurants Close Due to Sick Staff

Thunderbird Station in Deep Ellum
Thunderbird Station in Deep Ellum Steven Monacelli
A soft opening is a common term in the restaurant industry that refers to a period of time when new restaurants essentially beg for forgiveness during the first few days (or weeks) of opening. Training wheels, if you will.

No one does a soft "lockdown" though, at least not before 2021 that is. This term relates to a voluntary suspension of business, or any activity, as it can also relate to individuals too. Restaurants, already beleaguered by a tight labor market, are increasingly having to shut down for days at a time as staff fall ill and they can no longer operate efficiently or safely.

“We really had no choice when it came to the decision of closing,” Kim Finch of Thunderbird Station said after closing on Dec. 18. “We were already understaffed, so when half the staff is out sick there wasn’t enough people to work to stay open. Out of everyone sick it was a mix of flu, strep and COVID.”
As we previously reported, restaurants in Houston, New York City and Philadelphia are making similar choices to close in what is typically one of the busiest times of the year for the service industry.

The biggest difference between these voluntary closures versus mandatory shutdowns in 2020 is money; there are no paycheck protection programs or grants for these businesses now.

“Yeah, it really sucked to have to close when we did. We were just starting to get a little busier with holiday traffic. And we really needed it because it’s still been kinda slow. Plus this has been some pretty epic patio weather,” Finch said.

Amor Y Queso, the charcuterie and cheese peddler in Deep Ellum, also had to shut down this week. A Facebook post on Tuesday showed the frustration of having to cancel business at the end of the year.
The MOST on brand ending to the year. Omicron is in the building, so we are OUT. The very last thing that I would’ve ever wanted to do was have to cancel New Year’s Eve. To let anybody down is the absolute HARDEST part of this ... This is an absolute kick in the grapes for us, y'all. 
Uchiaba closed on Sunday and Homewood is having to close on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Sara Zhan at The Atlantic recently explored how soft lockdowns and our voluntary actions can act as a brake on rising cases but can have a lingering impact, "Whatever the effect of a soft lockdown on the spread of Omicron, it will affect the economy too. Even if customers remain willing to go out, businesses will have to close when too many employees end up sick or get stuck in quarantine."

Thunderbird Station was finally able to reopen on Dec. 28. "We wanted to make sure we got the remainder of the staff tested before reopening," Finch says.

Amor y Queso will "be out until everyone is COVID negative and past required quarantine days." They're also issuing refunds for all the business they had on the books for the end of the year.

According to The New York Times, Dallas County has seen a 341% increase in new daily cases over the past two weeks. From Dec. 23 to Dec. 27, the average number of daily cases climbed from 618 to 961; that's up from 111 on Dec. 1.  
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.