Hundreds of Texas bars and restaurants are scrambling to change how they operate, maneuvering through loopholes that will allow them to reopen after being closed by Gov. Greg Abbott's latest shutdown targeting bars.
Abbott has shut bars down twice since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in Texas. The first time bars were swept up in a total lockdown of statewide businesses. But the second time, on June 26, Abbott singled bars out while allowing virtually every other kind of business in Texas to stay open.
But other operations such as restaurants that sell a lot of booze, wineries and breweries were ensnared in the same order and also forced to close because alcohol sales exceeded 51% of total revenue, meaning they were classified as bars.
"Generally everyone has a common sense understanding: 'What is a bar? And what is a restaurant?' I think that 51% rule is so broad that it actually picks up or encompasses businesses that we would normally think of as really being restaurants," said State Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, one of more than 65 lawmakers who signed a letter asking Abbott to update his order's definition of a restaurant.
Wray gave the example of a burger restaurant, where a patron might buy a burger and two beers. Oftentimes, the beer will cost more than the food, but that doesn't make the restaurant a bar, he said.
Emily Williams Knight, Texas Restaurant Association president, estimates that about 1,500 restaurants ranging from steak houses to coffee shops that sell wine were "inadvertently" forced to close when Abbott shut down bars, translating to about 35,000 lost jobs in the state.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission responded to outcry from the service industry with new guidance in a July 30 notice allowing businesses to either demonstrate that they recently had less than 51% alcohol sales or use alcohol sales projections and apply for a Food and Beverage Certificate, documentation that allows them to reopen as a restaurant.
The certificate workaround requires the business to have a permanent kitchen. It allows bars and restaurants to use projected sales numbers instead of requiring past sales to determine if alcohol sales exceed food sales.
The TABC received more than 600 requests from existing businesses for Food and Beverage Certificates since Abbott's order took place and granted about 300, according to commission spokesperson Chris Porter. Almost 90 businesses have also requested to update their alcohol sales numbers in an effort to reopen.
The Texas restaurant industry is already struggling, with Knight projecting that up to 30% of restaurants in the state could go out of business.
For those forced to shut down due to the bar order, it can be a death sentence and business owners see these changes as their last hope.
After his Dallas restaurant was closed for a second time, Lava Cantina owner Ian Vaughn knew he'd have to figure out a way to reopen — and fast — for the sake of his more than 100 employees and to save his business.
After three weeks of pursuing various options to reopen, Vaughn updated his sales numbers to include live music ticket sales from concerts, knocking his alcohol sales percentage down to about 39%. This allowed him to resume operations.
"I was highly distressed throughout the entire time," Vaughn said. "I had over 100 people out of work, and I just needed to get my staff back, and I had bills to cover and no idea how we were going to ultimately make ends meet. You feel completely helpless."
Even some traditional bars can reopen using the same workarounds outlined by the TABC — as long as they have, or will obtain, permanent food service facilities.
Justin Kaufman, owner of the El Paso Drafthouse and The Rey Muerto, decided to reopen his bars as restaurants by using future sales projections to get a Food and Beverage Certificate.
Functionally, Kaufman's businesses operate almost the same as before the second shutdown, using the safety measures he implemented when he was first allowed to reopen. He offers the same menus but now requires all patrons to purchase food with their drinks to ensure he stays under the 51% alcohol sales limit. He also hired additional chefs to deal with the increased food sales.
Although he's happy to be open, finding a way through the state's loopholes took time and money.
Kaufman estimates that the entire process, from hiring new chefs to deal with increased food sales to applying for the permits cost him around $10,000.
"I wish things have been a little different, and I wish we'd been taken into consideration," he said. "I've had no choice but to kind of sidestep these situations and do what I got to do to stay open."
However, the option to reopen doesn't work for everyone. Kim Finch, owner of Dallas bars the Double Wide and the Single Wide, said adding just one kitchen to her facilities would cost about $30,000. A grease trap alone would cost $15,000, she said.
After already draining her savings to keep the bills paid while her businesses are bringing in zero income, adding that expense not an option for her.
"You're just in the dark, you know nothing," she said. "No one's mentioned a 'maybe date.' There's not too much longer that we can all just stay closed and keep paying bills."
Breweries also found themselves forced to shut down by Abbott's order, with two-thirds of Texas craft brewery owners predicting that their businesses could close permanently by the end of the year under the current closures, according to a July survey by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
Hopsquad Brewing Co., an Austin brewery, reopened as a restaurant using a Food and Beverage Certificate with an onsite food truck serving as its kitchen, General Manager Greg Henny said.
He was lucky, because the brewery already had a food truck on site, Henry said. But he thinks breweries and wineries should have their own classification separate from bars, because they operate differently.
Henny said the guidance from the TABC has been confusing and harmful to breweries. To help other businesses survive the pandemic, the agency allowed "retail and manufacturing businesses" to serve and sell alcohol in a patio or outdoor area that wasn't part of its original designated premises, which some brewery owners took as being able to reopen.
However, the TABC later released a clarification saying that businesses with more than 51% alcohol sales were not eligible.
"The circumstances are constantly changing as a result of which way the winds are blowing with [the TABC]," he said. "It makes us feel frustrated. We're fighting tooth and nail just to stay open, and we've shown time and time again that we can operate safely," he said.
State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, and Texas Legislative Tourism Caucus chairman led the efforts behind the letter sent to Abbott asking for an updated restaurant definition.
"You've got a lot of these establishments — these restaurants — that are kind of in limbo just because of how much alcohol they sell," he said. "Restaurants that have already been decimated by the first initial shutdowns with the pandemic [and] by some people's reluctance to want to come in and eat."
The letter asks that any business with a permit or license from the TABC still be considered a restaurant if it has a permanent kitchen that is operational during all business hours, serves multiple entrees, includes an exhaust hood and fire suppression system, only serves seated customers and follows social distancing protocols.
Abbott did not respond to requests for comment.
Krause said he also believes bars could safely reopen as well.
"I'd like to see them be able to open up under certain restrictions under certain guidelines," Krause said. "They're ready, willing and able to comply with those."
Angela Clendenin, an epidemiologist at Texas A&M University School of Public Health, said that the rise of COVID-19 cases can't be attributed to any one factor, including to bar activity, but instead is a combination of many. However, it is likely bar activity did have an impact on the overall transmission rate and some areas saw declines after their bars were closed and the mask mandate was in place, she said.
The typical bar environment makes it easy for the virus to be transmitted, she said. People are typically in much closer quarters, willing to socialize with strangers and can't wear masks as they're drinking. Even speaking loudly or singing over music can propel droplets further than usual, she said.
Clendenin said to reopen bars safely, it will take consumers making sure that they are holding themselves accountable and bar owners enforcing social distancing, masking and other safety practices.
"But ultimately at the end of the day, bar owners need to be able to provide for their employees and their families," she said. "This is a very difficult time for everybody, but it goes back to individual responsible behavior and I can't emphasize that enough."
- Governor OKs cocktails-to-go as bars face second shutdown ... ›
- The famous sauce has cooled at Stubb's. Will business return there ... ›
- Without restaurants, bars or festivals, Austin's cottage industry of ... ›
- Abbott closes Texas bars, tubing, reduces restaurants capacity ... ›
- 3 Austin bars get permit suspensions for violating COVID-19 rules ... ›
- Large crowds, record business for some bars, parks and ... ›
- Patios may be 'the only game in town this summer' for Austin ... ›
- A lifeline for some, a burden for others: To-go alcohol sales get ... ›
- Governor OKs cocktails-to-go as bars face second shutdown ... ›
- Via 313 takes Pizzeria of the Year - austonia ›
- 7 Austin hard seltzers tasted and rated by the Austonia team - austonia ›
- New state rule lets bars, taprooms reopen with food trucks - austonia ›
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces loosening of COVID restrictions - austonia ›
- Public alcohol consumption is now legal in 5 East Austin neighborhoods - austonia ›
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces bars may reopen amid COVID - austonia ›
- Travis County judge says bars must remained closed amid COVID - austonia ›
- map of Austin bars converted to restaurants to reopen - austonia ›
- 5 new breweries and more in Austin - austonia ›
- Restaurants closing dining rooms to flatten covid curve - austonia ›
- Alcohol sales are up but Austin breweries still struggling - austonia ›
- Sixth Street shows packed street with no masks after governors order lifted - austonia ›
- Austin restaurants struggle to hire workers after pandemic year - austonia ›
- First hemp vodka in Texas makes its way to Austin - austonia ›
- San Jac Saloon's custom doors were stolen - austonia ›
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
- Grand opening of Giga Texas faces push back from the community ... ›
- Giga Texas may start production of Model Y's this week - austonia ›
- Tesla hosts Cyber Rodeo grand opening party for Giga Texas ... ›
- Musk: Recently opened Giga Texas is a gigantic money furnace ... ›
- Elon Musk is spotted driving a Cybertruck through Giga Texas ... ›
- PHOTOS: Peek inside the Tesla Gigafactory producing Model Ys in ... ›
- Cyber Rodeo: what we know about the Giga Texas opening party ... ›
- Excitement over Giga Texas grand opening continues at Tesla Con ›
- Tesla's mileage range on new Model Y lowers - austonia ›
You’ll have to leave city limits if you’re looking for a proper ranch property like 417 Acres Shipp Lake Ranch, aptly named for its acreage. The property comes built out with three farmhouses, one of which has bedrooms and two bathrooms and two of which have two bedrooms and one bathroom. The nearly untouched property, which surrounds the 100-plus-acre Shipp Lake, has remained in the same family since the early 1900s and gives you picturesque views for the making of a dream home. In fact, the previous owners ran a water ski camp on the property.
Sitting waterside on Lake Austin, this home gives you the unique opportunity to own a piece of the lush Hill Country with views of Mount Bonnell. The 2,750-square foot, three-bedroom, four-bathroom house allows you to integrate indoor and outdoor life with large windows opening to an outdoor living area. The crown jewel is the .76-acre parcel of land that tapers off to your own lakeside resort, featuring an covered outdoor kitchen, fire pit, stone boat house to store your water sports supplies and veranda sitting at the mouth of the water, perfect for an entertainer.
Got dreams of becoming a real Texas rancher? 7814 Brown Cemetery Rd. is the perfect place to start with 40 rolling acres of land and its very own swimming hole. Just east of Austin in Manor, the modest-on-the-outside home clocks at 4,412 square feet with five bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms, but there are an additional two living structures on the property. The horseshoe-shaped pond sits in the heart of the property and comes equipped with a water slide, diving board and a fishing dock.