Z’Tejas in January opened the Z’ecret Garden, an uncovered patio space shaded by the restaurant’s cedar grove, adjacent to the porch of its Arboretum-area restaurant. A half-dozen tables sit out on the deck space, each equipped with a private campfire and cushioned seats.
Robby Nethercut, the chief operating officer at Z’Tejas, said the restaurant’s team opened the space as a means to provide the intimate dining experience that has been elusive over the past 12 months, all while maintaining safe and socially distant measures in place.
“We really just wanted to create a relaxing environment where people can enjoy themselves,” Nethercut said.
The patio addition is just the latest in a series of moves the Austin restaurant group, which has operated under the Z’Tejas name for more than three decades, has had to make since the coronavirus pandemic hit Central Texas.
After Austin Mayor Steve Adler ordered restaurants cease dine-in service to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Nethercut said Z’Tejas quickly pivoted to keep its kitchens operating and staff employed.
Z’Tejas began delivering its meals, a first for the restaurant, utilizing its kitchen and wait staff to keep partial income flowing. The restaurant also began selling its scratch-kitchen ingredients and pre-cooked meals to the community through grocery and family meal packages.
Nethercut said Z’Tejas quickly elected to serve the community in the early months of the pandemic. When dining rooms closed down, the restaurant distributed meals to isolated Austinites at senior living facilities. And while Z’Tejas watched its sales drop in spring 2020, Nethercut said the restaurant group prioritized keeping its staff safe and well-fed.
“We offered family meals, every day, to all our employees and their families,” Nethercut said. “The last thing you need to worry about is how you’re going to eat. Your income might be affected, but we can feed you.”
Now, nearly an entire year after the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Nethercut said Z’Tejas is starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Catering orders and event reservations are starting to turn the corner, and the restaurant group is even now looking at a new location in the Avery Ranch area.
“We’ve learned we need a smaller footprint with a big bar and a big patio. And we need to be ... where we can be the neighborhood restaurant,” Nethercut said. “Those are things, from a business standpoint, that we’ve learned over 2020.”
9400-A Arboretum Blvd., Austin
512-346-3506 | www.ztejas.com
Hours: Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.