Dallas Restaurateurs Patient and Cautious About Reopening as Vaccine Slowly Rolls Out

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Eleven months have passed since the dining rooms in Dallas closed due to the arrival of the coronavirus. Some of them haven’t reopened yet.

A small group of restaurant owners have refused to resume dining service instead of sticking to take-out, roadside pick-up, delivery, or outdoor patios. Most of them run very small businesses and are driven by concern for the health of their employees and customers.

This attitude is backed by science that says we should continue to avoid eating indoors. The Washington, DC government found that 14% of the district’s virus outbreaks occurred in restaurants and bars over a four-month period. A study by the University of California at San Francisco found cooks performing the most dangerous job of the pandemic, with bakers fourth, cooks and chefs eleventh, and bartenders 24th.

With that in mind, I called seven restaurant owners in Dallas who have been closing their dining rooms since March. Two of them, Lucia’s Jennifer Uygur and Jimmy Contreras of Taco y Vino, said that not a single employee got sick, and they believe their cautious demeanor (along with happiness) is a reason.

As a food writer and diner, I fully support the continued closings of these restaurants and have not eaten in a restaurant for months. In the words of New Yorker Helen Rosner, “There is currently no excuse for dining inside at a restaurant that ultimately doesn’t come down to” I really want “.”

The question I asked these seven restaurant owners is what comes next: Given that more and more people are being vaccinated, how are they going to decide when it’s time to safely reopen their dining rooms?

Some owners cited specific benchmarks like vaccination rates. Others aren’t sure how to decide. Here, alphabetically by restaurant, are their answers.

Whisk's 7 o'clock breakfast sandwich in West Dallas in Kidd Springs Park.EXPAND

Whisk’s 7 o’clock breakfast sandwich in West Dallas in Kidd Springs Park.

Taylor Adams

Jennifer Uygur, co-owner of Lucia
You’ve probably asked one of the toughest questions because I can’t answer it in a vacuum. We’ve thought about it a surprising amount. I don’t have a good and quick answer.

That is one of the reasons we made the decision we made about Lucia [moving it to a new space with a dedicated to-go counter]because we really couldn’t imagine how much longer we could tread water. There are so many factors that we keep on our minds over and over again. You kind of make it up to you if you call. Is it [reopening] When are your employees vaccinated? Then I am still masked until I know that I cannot be a carrier of the disease. The people ready to come to your restaurant, do I own it? If we are vaccinated and open, we could spray tables with customers present next to them. Is that what we want in Lucia by spraying tables next to people who are eating and drinking? So I can’t answer this question in a vacuum.

Lucia sells take-away meals that have been ordered in advance and packaged with warm-up instructions.

Misti Norris, Head Chef, Petra and the Beast
I don’t think there is a definitive answer to what is the right way to go. Even though we are being vaccinated, there is still so much that is unknown. This whole situation has evolved week by week. I don’t think it’s going to be something that is necessarily thought out. I think it will only happen organically. Once we decide to open up to the public again based on my co-workers and the comfort and safety of the public, the way it all works will dissolve.

Petra and the Beast serves family take-away “Take Home the Beast” on weekends and will soon be offering a casual to-go menu called Rainbowcat. Depending on the weather, there will be a dinner on Saturday with very limited indoor or outdoor seating.

Andrew Savoie, Head Chef, Resident Taqueria
The [decision] will be together as a team. The reason I’m closed is really because of my staff. That’s big number one. I could open up a few seats inside, but I’m a small restaurant. If I create three [tables]What does it really do? It will be frustrating for everyone. Either you’re all in or you’re all out and we’re all out until we feel ready as a team. As the owner, I don’t make these decisions alone. It’s all about my employees. If I have teammates who go under, we will sacrifice what we do.

Resident Taqueria lets two customers in at the same time and serves food either to take away or on the terrace.

Pick up on the roadside at Wu Wei Din in summer.EXPAND

Pick up on the roadside at Wu Wei Din in summer.

Brian Reinhart

Brent Reaves, co-owner of Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que
We’ll watch the numbers drop. If the number of cases drops aggressively, we will meet again with our leadership team and consider whether to open up. We have pretty much the same discussion every month, but right now the numbers are not falling enough.

We’re not a big chain, the capital that supports us is not the same as these people’s, so we need to take tighter precautions to keep our team safe. That’s why we closed our dining room. But if we see a drastic drop in the numbers we will be 50% busy and slowly return from there.

Smokey John’s currently serves takeaway, roadside, and catering orders.

Jimmy Contreras, owner, Taco y Vino
I’ve always left it to the servers’ discretion. If they’re not comfortable, we won’t. So that will always be when we are comfortable when Taco y Vino is ready as a whole. I prefer to keep our dining room closed. But when the weather is bad we might as well switch off because we are all outside.

I don’t want it Leon Lett. Get to the goal line right there and then drop the ball.

The Taco y Vino serves food on the terrace, in the backyard and to take away. There is temporarily limited seating available during the current extremely cold weather.

Julien Eelsen, owner, Whisk Crepes Cafe
I think from an operational standpoint we won’t be open until the fall. Most likely September, October. I will reopen my dining room when everything can be reopened, when concert halls and sports arenas reopen. If they say restaurants are 100% legal to reopen, I will not reopen. As for vaccinations – if we reached 40% of the people vaccinated, we’d reopen maybe 40 or 50%.

Whisk crepes built a front deck last fall after just being out and about for months.

Todd Hung, owner of the Chinese kitchen Wu Wei Din
We plan to open up to dinner when all of our kitchen workers have been vaccinated to keep customers and workers safe.

Wu Wei Din serves roadside take-away meals in the parking lot.

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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer’s food critic since spring 2016. He also writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for Observer and MusicWeb International.

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