Every week we have a list of food and drink events for the upcoming weekend. Obviously, with the threat of further spreading of the coronavirus, Dallas has been virtually shut down.
But our restaurants aren't fully. Thankfully, the city of Dallas is still permitting takeout, drive-thru and delivery services.
We had a birthday dinner planned at Mot Hai Ba for Tuesday, so that's being shifted to takeout later this week. And the last two days, I made an effort to at least get takeout for lunches. Tuesday was Easy Slider for that excellent goat cheese and strawberry jam burger and the perfection that is those pork rinds.
Wednesday, I gave in to tacos at Trompo (they've moved their order window to the 10th Street side, by the way) for some barbacoa, and to talk to owner Luis Olvera.
“I didn’t want to really accept all of this craziness. I finally came to terms [Tuesday] that Trompo isn’t immune to COVID-19. And I don’t mean the literal illness,” he says. “I value my staff more than most people value their family members. Trompo is what it is because I have the best team in the industry, honestly.”
Tuesday, Olvera sat down with his team to come up with a skeleton crew and new hours — nothing long term but something to start with, with the intention of adjusting weekly. All of that depends on how much business thrives or suffers in this environment.
“Business is definitely suffering, but we have work, which we are extremely grateful for,” he says. “Although I’m frustrated and stressed that I can’t provide for my team the way I’d like to, I’m very fortunate and grateful to still have my business in operation and to be able to provide a discount to all of the loyal people that have kept Trompo alive throughout all of this time.”
Of course, he's just one of many restaurateurs, and Trompo is just one of thousands of restaurants in our city — seemingly most of which are transitioning to takeout and delivery. Many have curbside so you don't even have to get out of your car. Plus, there are delivery services for these restaurants that are waiving their delivery fees.
Sure, I thought about listing them all, but a list that long may overload the device you're reading this on. However, I did chat with Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano's office. Council liaison Monica Moreno says his office has been working with other council districts to get a master list up on VisitDallas' website. We talked about restaurants making the shift, and she's been getting word from groups such as the downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum improvement districts. (If there's ever a time for collaboration, it's now.)
If you still want good food, and you still want your favorite restaurants to be around when we come out of this, get your food to go, get it delivered. It's going to take every single dollar, every single social post encouraging people to be a patron, every single person rallying together right now.
A number of chefs and restaurateurs we spoke with were unsure if takeout would sustain their business. And even then, starting takeout is an adjustment.
"This is a hard time now for restaurants as there is no dine-in anymore, so some dishes and creative [outlets] we had goes out the window," says Peja Krstic of Mot Hai Ba, where takeout is not new, but delivery is. "We were able to position ourselves OK for now, and change the way we do business in an instant. We’ve updated our menu to be more home-friendly, and we utilize our [front of house staff] to do deliveries and package food, so they can at least have income through tips.
"Even with the way restaurants are doing to-go and delivery now, things can’t stay the same. There is no more beverage income to balance out with food and allow for salaries chefs and cooks had. Now, restaurants have to survive only on food, and that requires proper costing and management of inventory."
If you're able, keep that part of your budget for restaurants intact: All precautions are being made to keep all people safe. You can also buy gift cards to restaurants or merchandise. Don't forget your coffee shops: Get a coffee to go from one of them and buy some beans from your favorite local roaster.
Some restaurants are taking donations: Cultivar Coffee has a GoFundMe to take care of their employees and stay afloat; Lee Daugherty is raising money to support his employees at Alexandre's bar in Oak Lawn; Jose has an option to send meals to other people.
Check out your favorite restaurants (many are being very good about posting updates through Facebook and Instagram) and see what opportunities there are to support them.
When you order takeout, tip heavily, as you're able. Many restaurants are giving discounts: If you save $2, why not give that back to them?
Restaurant critic Brian Reinhart and I recently asked industry leaders their top 10 favorite restaurants. Since I had to participate, I already had a list of 10 places I knew I had to visit during this time, which is what took me to Trompo. Be intentional: Think about the places you love and order from them.
And for the love of Pete, if you're able, get your meal outside of a fast-food place. Seeing lines around those buildings while some of the finest talent in Dallas suffer is reckless at a time like this.
"You can get something healthier and so much more tasty for about $1.50 more and support a local restaurant," says Jesse Moreno Jr. of La Popular Tamale House. "When you support a local restaurant, you are not only supporting the owner who has a family, but you are securing jobs for so many cooks and waitstaff who are so hopeless right now."
Odds are, when you do pick up food from a local restaurant, you're probably going to see the chef/owner right up front. Many of their lives have shifted to pay cuts and 12-hour days. Even so, many of them worry that relying on takeout may not be enough; but they're not positive what will be needed to keep everything afloat.
“Takeout will definitely save 60% of my staff’s jobs, for now,” Olvera says. “But much like the hours of operation, only time will tell what good-bad will come of the chaos.”
That chaos is causing a weird time in Dallas. If you ride your bike, you'll get around more quickly without traffic. And something that I've seen in times such as in July 2016, after the murder of five police officers downtown: When you make eye contact with even a stranger, you both smile at each other, kind of some weird knowing smile that we're all going through this strange season together.
Inside the industry, outside and between the two, we're all going through this together. These local restaurants make up Dallas' small businesses, the heartbeat of our communities.
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