Every September, Fair Park businesses prepare for the most challenging weeks of the year: the State Fair of Texas. For three weeks, the State Fair vacuums up every parking spot, funneling crowds away from local businesses and toward the concession aisles where hawkers convert money into paper tickets. Regular visitors to the neighborhood, meanwhile, stay home, wary of paying $15 just to park at a restaurant where access is usually free.
The team at mezcaleria Las Almas Rotas had a plan to counteract the Fair’s pernicious influence, in the form of a chorizo corn dog called Big Mex. They unveiled a handmade banner and flooded Facebook with Big Mex pictures.
But they weren’t ready for an opponent even more formidable than the State Fair: rain.
“Honestly, this year the biggest challenge has been the weather,” says Shad Kvetko, one of Las Almas Rotas’ owners. “This rain has been killing us. This last weekend was horrible — Dallas does not like to go out in the rain.
“Sometimes even the threat of rain can do it,” Kvetko contends. “It really hurt our September too, even before the Fair.”
In wet weather, Dallas seizes up. Drivers move their cars at a crawl and, after work, everyone makes the slow march home and stays there. The resulting slowdown seems to leave many bars unscathed, but it can have a brutal effect on other businesses — especially on the servers and staff who rely on customer tips for their incomes.
“The real victims are the staff,” says Jon Alexis, the restaurateur behind TJ’s Seafood and Malibu Poke. “I can make it. How can a server pay their rent with a 50 percent reduction in tips?”
Alexis adds, “Established restaurants like ours can survive, but the real victims are the staff who rely on foot traffic to pay rent, and the mom and pop operators who may not have the resources to survive the cash flow crunch.”
One family-run operation in Irving is feeling the pain. Xay Senephoumy, owner of Sapp Sapp Lao and Thai Cuisine, calls the rain’s effect “drastic.”
“The weather definitely has its effects on us right now,” Senephoumy says. “We’re way slower than usual.” But Sapp Sapp does have an ace up its sleeve: killer cool-weather comfort food.
“Those who do conquer the weather and come in are here for soup,” Senephoumy says. “And the soups are a hit right now. Especially the pho with oxtail and the Big Daddy Bone Pho,” which comes crowned with a whole beef rib.
Not all the news is bad — and not all businesses are hurting. Some breweries and traditional bars are chugging ahead at full steam.
Rebecca Cornell, a bartender at Milo Butterfinger’s near SMU, sees a definite silver lining to the clouds.
“The Fair usually makes us take a hit in October, but this year with the rain driving people inside, our numbers are way up,” Cornell says. “It seems people get cabin fever after a few days and want to get out and have a drink to warm them up, so while business may not be great every day, overall it is still pretty steady.”
Cabin fever seemed to be in full effect this weekend, when this author braved robust crowds at two local breweries, Oak Highlands and Pegasus City. Cornell says that reading an Eater article about the rains made her “reflect about the difference” between restaurants and bars.
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“I would imagine that restaurants are taking a greater hit,” she says.
Quia Querisma, who tends bar on weekends at Italian restaurant Mille Lire, says any decline on her shifts has been “nothing too dramatic.” Mille Lire has covered parking and tends to funnel customers toward the bar during slow services, but even with those caveats, Querisma agrees with the notion that bars don’t suffer as badly as restaurants, except for bars adjacent to the fairgrounds.
“I remember when I worked at Time Out [Tavern] in 2015, there were ice storms and people still came,” she recalls.
The biggest loser in this year’s never-ending showers could be one of the industry’s heavyweights: the State Fair itself. In 2017, the Fair released daily attendance logs. So far this year, no attendance data has been disclosed, but the fair has already closed early twice this week due to inclement weather.