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Business isn't bad at restaurants reopened at low capacity, but 'you can't really make a living like that'
Manuel's Mexican Restaurant on Jollyville Road in Northwest Austin reopened for dine-in and take-out on May 2 after being closed for seven weeks. It was one day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order, allowing some businesses to reopen at 25% capacity, took effect.
"If we don't jump through this window now and try to get reopened, there's a pretty good chance we never will," co-owner Jennifer McNevin said of her decision-making process.
But reopening a restaurant is a challenging equation, local restaurateurs said, and different eateries have found different solutions.
After spending long days applying for federal assistance, calling congressmen and cancelling automatic payments to vendors, McNevin had to switch gears when Abbott announced the rule change. She reinstated 80 employees on her payroll, trained them in new safety protocols meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ordered food.
"There's a million things that you don't even anticipate," McNevin said. "And then you're worried, Will anyone even come to the restaurant with all the fear?"
Since reopening, McNevin said Manuel's has seen "really great business every single day" and both staff and patrons have embraced new safety protocols, such as tables being spaced six feet apart.
Manuel's downtown location, on Congress Avenue, remains closed because most office buildings and hotels are still empty. McNevin is hopeful the governor will allow restaurants to expand capacity to 50% soon.
"We have two restaurants, and only one is reopened right now, and it's only reopened at 25% capacity," McNevin said. "You can't really make a living like that."
A few blocks away, III Forks Steakhouse is open on a reservation-only basis, in addition to take-out service. "We'd been prepping for it for many weeks," General Manager Brian Kelley said of the governor's order. On May 1, the dining room reopened at 15% capacity, to allow staff time to adjust to new safety protocols—such as kitchen timers signaling when it's time to change protective equipment—and manage traffic flow around the restaurant. It has since expanded to 25% capacity.
Demand for reservations outpaces supply and hasn't cut into the restaurant's take-out service, Kelley said. Patrons have also been "extremely courteous," tipping generously and adjusting to the safety protocols.
But Kelley echoed McNevin's financial concerns. Dine-in service has improved cash flow and helped the restaurant keep some of its staff employed—at least for now. "Ultimately we're not where we need to be," he said. "We can't be at this level of business forever."
For Mike Black, co-owner of Terry Black's Barbecue on Barton Springs Road, the decision to reopen was financially motivated—but not by his business' bottom line.
"The reason for being open was to get my employees back to work," Black said, adding that many of his employees either didn't qualify for unemployment benefits or did and never received any.
Since opening Tuesday, Black has rehired about 70% of his staff, despite not seeing as much business as anticipated. "It's to be determined in the next week or two how big of a loss we're going to take bringing these people back," he said. "But we're willing to take those losses if it means getting a paycheck in their pocket for the time being."
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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