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Risk of dine-in too high for some: 'Who the hell wants to close their restaurant two times in three months?'
(Austonia staff)

Following a weekslong stay-at-home period, restaurants and some other businesses will be allowed to reopen dining rooms at 25% capacity this Friday per an executive order issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. But some will remain closed because the costs of reopening—and the risk of having to close again in the future—are too great.


The Peached Tortilla, a Southern-Asian fusion restaurant on Burnet Road, has offered curbside take-out since March 17.

But founder Eric Silverstein said the governor's order is not enough for him to reopen the dining room—or his downtown restaurant, Bar Peached, which is closed and not offering to-go service. In addition to financial calculations, he is uncertain customers would feel comfortable eating out and worries that a surge in cases could prompt a second shutdown.

"There is a start-up cost associated with reopening, so having to close again would be debilitating," Silverstein said. "Who the hell wants to close their restaurant two times in three months?"

Just down the street from Peached Tortilla is a Happy Chicks, which will not reopen its dining room.

"It really doesn't make financial sense to open at 25%," said Doug Guller, owner of the hospitality group ATX Brands, which includes the local chain Happy Chicks. "Our costs are still the same, and when we were open at 100%, we still operated on margins of 10% or less. So if you're only able to open at 25% you're in a loss position from the get-go."

Instead, on Friday Guller will reopen the Burnet Happy Chicks, as well as a second location on Nueces Street, for takeout and delivery.

"The reason we decided to open now is because we have more information today than we did 45 days ago," Guller said, "and quite honestly we've been able to see some of our fellow restaurants do takeout and delivery exceptionally well."

Tacodeli, which has been open for takeout, is making a kind of compromise starting Friday by opening patios, but not dining rooms.

Other Austin businesses—including movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse and North Loop cocktail bar Drink.Well.—announced on Twitter that they would remain closed.


Downtown Austin Alliance President and CEO Dewitt Peart said during a press conference yesterday that business owners—restaurants and otherwise—are concerned about regaining their customer base whenever they do choose to reopen.

"Obviously, for retail, pedestrian traffic is the lifeblood," he said. With hotels still closed for the foreseeable future, tourism and other traffic drivers, in particular for downtown, remain severely limited. "We're anxiously awaiting to see [the impact]," Peart said of the governor's order. "And I think it's mostly going to be around consumer confidence."

The DAA conducted a survey of 600 downtown businesses between April 9-19, before the governor's reopening announcement. Of the 80 respondents, half said they would open immediately once public orders were lifted. But 20.3% said they were unsure if or when they would reopen.

It also remains to be seen how much of a financial boost the reopening order offers local businesses, which have seen significant losses as a result of the pandemic.

"All we can do right now is cross our fingers and hope that the word gets out," Guller said, "and we can sustain ourselves to continue to be a part of our communities."

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