Dallas Restaurants Get Proactive for Safe Dining Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Khao Noodle Shop owner Donny Sirisavath says they're making sure hand sanitizer is available in places such as by the door, and he's screening employees' use.
Khao Noodle Shop owner Donny Sirisavath says they're making sure hand sanitizer is available in places such as by the door, and he's screening employees' use. Diana Zamora
Wash your hands. Stay away from people who are sick. Lock yourself in at home if you’re feeling ill.

We keep hearing these things and, hopefully, we’re all following them. For Dallas restaurants and bars, they’re following those rules and then some. Many of us are aware of what’s going on in coastal regions, such as the Bay Area and New York City, so it’s only natural that local restaurants step up their game in hygiene.

Ideally, these are clean places anyway, but for places such as Sandwich Hag in the Cedars, the onus is shared with the customers.

click to enlarge Sandwich Hag is making the rules clear on keeping clean. - REYNA DUONG
Sandwich Hag is making the rules clear on keeping clean.
Reyna Duong
“I think because I’ve always shared my health inspection scores, my customers trust that we’ve always taken food safety seriously,” Sandwich Hag owner Reyna Duong says. “And with this, I’m taking that extra step of transparency to show I’m also asking for our customers to take it seriously by sanitizing before they sign [the digital screen for checkout], using our Lysol before touching the door handle with clean hands, etc.”

Also, they’re taking the temperature of any one of Duong’s team members who sets foot in the kitchen each morning. They also meet weekly to discuss current events and extra measures.

“I’m educating myself on extra [prevention] steps that I can do to help minimize the spread, as well,” she says. “However, it truly is about education.”

Sandwich Hag is still seeing good business, but other places are noticing quieter dining rooms. Last weekend, we heard Deep Ellum was generally less populated.

“It’s dead as shit out here. Last week was pretty successful, but this coronavirus thing has been getting crazier and crazier by the day,” says Josh Farrell, the chef of Will Call. “All the way up till [Wednesday], we had a little meeting about it. Is this gonna affect us? Is this something we’re gonna take precautions for? And we all came in on the same foot [Wednesday] saying, ‘Dude, this shit’s real.’”

Farrell talks with staff to make sure they’re washing their hands more than they normally would — if they cough, no matter into their hands or elbow, they’re washing their hands and that surface.

Over in Bishop Arts, places such as Trompo are extra clean these days. Owner Luis Olvera is making sure all door knobs and handles are getting sanitized every shift. Signage reminds customers to wash their hands, too.

In Oak Lawn, Lee Daugherty, the owner of Alexandre’s, says business is still good, but he’s seeing more elbow bumps instead of hugs, and he’s had a music act from New York cancel its trip.

“I will need several days to a week to see if business is impacted,” he says — a sentiment other restaurateurs shared. “Daily cleaning is regular here; [we] have focused some more on disinfection and have more Lysol wipes/Pine Sol becoming the norm to hit surfaces on a regular basis.”

click to enlarge Chef Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman - ALISON MCLEAN
Chef Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman
Alison McLean
At Jose in North Dallas, staff is keeping clean and following regular measures. But chef Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman is in town when she was supposed to be in New York cooking at the James Beard House this weekend.

“I [have] to listen, to respect what the owners of the house say, and everyone agrees it’s too much of a risk,” she says.

The dinner had already received some cancellations.

“We all have a lot of responsibilities to come back to; God forbid we get quarantined,” the chef says. “It’s just too much of a risk to take, then to come back and put our guests and customers at risk — it’s just not worth it.”

At Jose, Pittman says it’s hard to know if the virus scare is affecting business: Spring break holidays are still happening, and it’s hard to know if fewer people are in because of that or if they’re afraid to leave their houses.

That’s another point: If restaurants, caterers and other service industry businesses see a slump now, the timing is bad. People leave town for the summer, and it slows — dramatically for many — so making money now can be vital for sustaining until the fall.

For Terry Kranz of TK Culinary in Dallas, he’s feeling that as events get canceled.

“What I’ve seen is everybody has been extremely hesitant to book, and it started back, I want to say, in January,” he says. “I started to see back then that people were canceling events.”

He’s also getting inquiries about fees for canceling events.

“It’s affecting a lot of people’s lives,” Kranz says. “I can only imagine what the financial aspect is for our industry; it’s going to devastate a lot of little people.”

Good Local Markets brings back its White Rock Farmers Market this weekend. It always enforces proper hand-washing stations at any prepared food booth or any booth that has sampling, and bathrooms for washing hands are available inside the adjacent church. Both this location and the one in Lakewood will have a hand-washing station set up at the information booths.

“Vendors are discouraged from attending the market sick, as well as customers. Farmers and vendors depend on us for their livelihood; we are the only source of income for many of the farm and ranch families that come to our markets,” says Casey Cutler, the director of Good Local Markets. “We will continue our farmers markets, using caution until the city cancels all events in the Dallas area.”

Many restaurateurs said they were mostly focused on hand washing — encouraging it and making it more easily available with intentionally placed hand sanitizer.

Jill Grobowsky Bergus of Lockhart Smokehouse is in that boat, and they’re doing deep cleanings every night. She’s also “happy to take your order from 6 feet away.”

Fat Straws, with four locations, is taking a number of steps, including no longer accepting reusable mugs, mason jars or tumblers. Straws there are now kept behind the counter, too.

A number of people are being intentional about continuing to be a patron to restaurants during this time. Not a bad idea: Restaurants have countless bills to pay, from rent to taxes to ice machine rentals and linens (and a whole lot more). How are they to make those without customers?

As much as we’d like to write, “Please wash your hands, be smart and keep supporting your local businesses,” the reality is, people are worried, too.

“Deep Ellum is the unwashed hands of Dallas. That’s the scary thing about being out here. I feel like if there’s a small breakout in Bishop Arts, people wouldn’t freak out. But Deep Ellum, if someone gets it, you’ll have 200 people get it in a weekend,” Farrell says. “We’re all kinda freaking out. It all depends on the news. The second it says something popped up downtown or, worst-case scenario, Deep Ellum, this place could clear out.”

TLDR? Wash your hands and support Dallas businesses.

Brian Reinhart contributed to the reporting of this story.
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.