UPDATED: P. Terry's, Whataburger among businesses to close dine-in areas to encourage social distancing

Epoch Coffee on West Anderson Lane in North Central Austin is only open for to-go orders as of March 16. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Epoch Coffee on West Anderson Lane in North Central Austin is only open for to-go orders as of March 16. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Epoch Coffee on West Anderson Lane in North Central Austin is only open for to-go orders as of March 16. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Update 9:36 p.m.

More restaurants and businesses announced closures or limitations in service March 16, including Alamo Drafthouse, P. Terry's and Whataburger.

In a video message, P. Terry's and Taco Ranch founder Patrick Terry said the dining rooms for all locations will be closed, with drive-thru and delivery service remaining open.

Whataburger began closing its dining rooms March 16 and will have all dine-in areas closed by 3 p.m. on March 17, according to its website.

Drive-thru service remains open, and Whataburger said it will begin offering curbside delivery service for online orders on March 19 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse, which began in Austin, also announced the closure of all locations save for one franchise-owned location in Winchester, Virginia.

"When we re-open after this unprecedented and indefinite hiatus, it will be in a dramatically altered world, and in an industry that’s been shaken to its core," read a statement on the movie theater's website.

Original story:

On the evening of March 15, Texas French Bread owner Murph Wilcott wrote a letter to customers he posted on the restaurant's website. Wilcott titled the note "Hitting Pause" and announced, in what he called an "excruciating call," that he would have to lay off the approximately 50 staff members at the restaurant and temporarily close due to concerns around the spread of the coronavirus.

"If we bite the bullet, go home now and slow things way down, the chances of emerging from this nightmare storm on a sunnier day are better than they might otherwise be," Wilcott wrote.

Other local restaurants made similar announcements over the weekend of March 14 and 15 as the number of coronavirus cases rose in the U.S. and some state and local governments continued to announce stricter controls on community gatherings.

Michael Fojtasek, the James Beard Award-nominated chef at Southern restaurant Olamaie, wrote on Instagram that he would be closing down his restaurant until at least May 1.

"After weighing as many options as we could over the last several days, the only safe answer for our team became this," he wrote. "So much love to all my hospitality friends and peers struggling with this impossible situation."

Other establishments are closing their dine-in services and offering takeout orders only—including all locations for Home Slice Pizza, taco spot Veracruz All Natural and fast-casual healthy eatery Honest Mary's—according to social media accounts for the restaurants, and North Austin coffee shop Epoch Coffee, according to a sign outside the West Anderson Lane location.

On March 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended event organizers cancel or postpone events that consist of more than 50 people. Some states, including New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, have closed restaurants for all dine-in guests, while locally, the city of Austin and Travis County have banned events with 250 or more people and recommended cancellations for events with more than 125 people.

As of the morning of March 16, there have been six cases of coronavirus confirmed by Austin Public Health officials in Travis County. All of the cases are travel-related, and there has not yet been any known cases of person-to-person spread. Nationwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there have been 3,813 confirmed cases in the U.S.

Like some other local establishments, Texas French Bread will not be shutting down operations completely. In his letter, Wilcott said he would, for now, keep a skeleton crew on and produce a small number of baked goods available each day in the garden area outside the restaurant. If that proved to be not enough to slow down the spread of disease, he said, he would consider stopping that service as well.

"We sit in agreement that all of us find some respite from the relentless anxiety that has been unleashed, that the afflicted may be healed, and that we all emerge from this safe and healthy," Wilcott wrote.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


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