Restaurants Can Reopen Today, but Will Your Favorite Spot Do So?

The interior of Flying Fish in West Dallas (pre-COVID)
The interior of Flying Fish in West Dallas (pre-COVID) Taylor Adams
Restaurants can reopen for in-house dining at 25% capacity as of Friday. They don’t have to, of course.

Across town, some are proudly opening, others are quietly opening in hopes to avoid shaming and others are adamantly keeping dining rooms closed.

One restaurant owner who wanted to remain anonymous reached out to us earlier in the week saying they were thinking about opening, but doing so without broadcasting it.

“Makes you scared to open at all so you don’t get publicly shamed. Social media is so vicious. I’m going to keep quiet and do as we can and see how things go,” the owner said.

The PR folks at Trinity Groves sent an email after Gov. Greg Abbott's announcement Monday, stating a number of restaurants would be open. One of those is Kate Weiser Chocolate — a business which posted on Facebook days later saying that the Trinity Groves location would be the only one reopening out of Weiser's three shops.

“For me, this is a very personal decision. Keeping my staff safe, keeping my customers safe is just more important than selling a few more boxes of chocolate. It’s just not worth it,” Weiser wrote.

On Friday, Dallas will begin it’s first phase of reopening. All retail/restaurants will be allowed to open back up to...

Posted by Kate Weiser Chocolate on Wednesday, April 29, 2020

She’s in no way alone. Mot Hai Ba chef/owner Peja Krstic was flabbergasted at the suggestion of opening at 25%. His dining room has been overtaken by a takeout operation — one that’s doing well but in a way that has a system in place. To open at 25% greatly disrupts that, he said.

“How can I open my business 25%? How do I make it comfortable when it’s a storage room for to-go?” he said. “If we start going around, it’s going to get even worse; everyone’s going to get sick.”

“This is the irony of the whole thing: It’s more costly to operate at 25% than it is at curbside." – Shannon Wynne

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Krstic is also worried that the ability for in-house dining can give landlords who are giving rent breaks the idea to collect their money now.

Thursday morning, the Observer received an email saying that Consolidated Restaurant Operations would “join many other North Texas restaurants by reopening dining rooms for limited-capacity service on May 1.”

Those restaurants include Cantina Laredo, El Chico, Lucky’s Cafe, III Forks and Silver Fox. We’re fans of Lucky’s around here, so we took up the offer in the email to speak with the executive team.

And got this response.

“Unfortunately, the CRO executive team doesn’t want to comment on reopening any of their concepts — I’m sorry!”

Another restaurant planning to reopen later next week also wasn't ready to chat: “Not yet. We are still detailing everything,” restaurant representatives texted.

Shannon Wynne, who has a slew of restaurants — Rodeo Goat, Flying Saucer, Meddlesome Moth, Miriam Cocina Latina and Flying Fish — says that while there’s a lot working against the restaurants, he’s still choosing to reopen his establishments while they continue to operate curbside takeout orders.

“This is the irony of the whole thing: It’s more costly to operate at 25% than it is at curbside, and it’s more costly to operate at 50% than 25%, so it’s all pretty frivolous, but we need to learn how to handle human nature, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he says.

While some employees had been furloughed, some had been let go, and now he’s bringing back staff across the restaurants as servers and backup kitchen staff. They still won’t operate at the full number of kitchen staff, he says.

As people consider going back, concerns of safety are a reality, and Wynne says he gets that — and empathizes.

“If they don’t want to work, they don’t have to work. If they feel frightened or afraid, I understand that. I mean, I’m not going in, my age precludes me from doing so,” he says. “Everybody has to make their own decisions with what they’re comfortable with. A lot of people will go in and will think it’s some kind of hoax; they will go in because they think a virus is a virus; other people are reasonable and think that this isn’t over yet.”

Wynne says he's taking precautions like everyone else (sanitizing, wearing masks and gloves, distancing) and spacing out the tables.

“[For] every floor plan, we have adjusted to putting tables together double-wide, so we eat up 50% of our tables that way naturally, then we have to cross off a certain number,” he says. “What people don’t realize is 25% includes employees, so this is not 25% of our tables and chairs, this is 25% of our occupancies … based on our square footage of service and preparation space.”

Meanwhile, people who are choosing to keep on-site dining closed are loud on social media.

Take Sandwich Hag owner and chef Reyna Duong: “I would rather shut down completely than to put my team and your safety at risk,” she wrote.

Friends, family, customer friends, peers. Please do NOT do this. It is not safe. Take it from someone that has...

Posted by Sandwich Hag on Monday, April 27, 2020

Earlier this week, Parigi chef and owner Janice Provost told The Dallas Morning News that she would open the restaurant’s patio dining Friday evening, but days later, she reconsidered.

“We have shifted from thinking of the patio as a possibility, to holding off until we have a better understanding on the rules and can do the opening properly. There are logistics to work out: restrooms, parking, how to serve the food (plates or disposables, glasses or plastic cups, that kind of thing),” she told the Observer Wednesday. “I want both my staff and my guests to be comfortable and ready. And I want to do it right.”

She noted that the restaurant’s curbside service will continue and that when it does open for in-house dining, it will do so in stages with takeaway remaining as part of its model “for the foreseeable future.”

In Lake Highlands, Haute Sweets Patisserie went from being closed to offering delivery and curbside pickup. But its shop won't open up yet.

“I don’t feel it’s safe … It’s still not worth the risk right now,” owner Tida Pichakron said Thursday, minutes before Dallas County Clay Jenkins tweeted that the county reached its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases to date at 179 new ones and five deaths.

Even though he’s reopening his dining rooms, Wynne has similar words.

“Wisdom has to be taken into everybody’s own sphere of of reality, and mine is that the virus isn’t done,” he says. “I hope I’m wrong, but I think the guidance by the governor is premature. But I really hope I’m wrong.”
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. She attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.