4 Frisco restaurant owners explain why they did not open their dining rooms on May 1

Howard Wang's China Grill will consider opening its dining room if the occupancy limit is raised to 50%. (Elizabeth Ucles/Community Impact Newspaper)
Howard Wang's China Grill will consider opening its dining room if the occupancy limit is raised to 50%. (Elizabeth Ucles/Community Impact Newspaper)

Howard Wang's China Grill will consider opening its dining room if the occupancy limit is raised to 50%. (Elizabeth Ucles/Community Impact Newspaper)

While Texas restaurants could reopen dining rooms at 25% occupancy on May 1, some Frisco establishments have decided to stick with to-go only service instead.

Gallo Nero Italian Bistro, Casa del Bro Mexican Grill & Creamery, Cane Rosso and Howard Wang’s China Grill are a few Frisco restaurants that have chosen to keep their dining rooms closed for now.

But the decision to not reopen dine-in did not come easily, said Gallo Nero owner Tim Raka, who spoke with employees following Gov. Greg Abbott reopening announcement.

Raka said keeping the dining room closed is an effort to prevent potential coronavirus exposure to customers and employees with compromised immune systems.

“Money is one thing, but the health of the people around us is way more important to us,” Raka said.

Protecting employees and customers from the virus was a consideration as well for Howard Wang’s China Grill, owner Jowin Wang said.

“We just feel like it’s too soon,” said Wang, whose restaurant will continue to-go service.

After noticing hesitancy from customers and staff, Cane Rosso owner Jay Jerrier said the pizza restaurant will continue to-go only at all locations, including the Frisco store at The Star, and hold off on dine-in services to better prepare for an eventual reopening.

“We wanted to take time and make sure we could get all the logistics done, make sure we had the staffing, make sure the staff we had felt good about working and that people really wanted to come,” he said.

While opening at 25% occupancy would have made a positive financial impact on The Star location, which has seen a significant drop in customers, Jerrier said Cane Rosso will wait a few more weeks to see how reopening fared for other area restaurants.

“Let’s see what the media says, what the medical professionals say,” Jerrier said. “Let’s see what our peers are doing.”

Opening at 25% occupancy “doesn’t make sense” for Gallo Nero, Raka said. Accounting for employees, he said, the restaurant would seat around 15 people under the limitation.

“It makes no sense to open the dining room and then open ourselves up to potentially get this virus,” Raka said. “Can you imagine running a business at 25%? No one could survive that.”

At Howard Wang’s China Grill, Wang said 25% occupancy would also not be enough given their 10-12 person staff.

“From a revenue standpoint, from a safety standpoint, it seems like the advantages don’t gear towards opening,” Wang said.

But he said the restaurant could open for dine-in during Abbott’s next phase for reopening.

“If they decide they want to go to 50% capacity, if everything’s been going well with 25% [for other restaurants], we might consider opening,” Wang said.

Newly opened Casa del Bro Mexican Grill & Creamery will continue to-go service for its Mexican-style meals, ice cream and margaritas following customer feedback, said co-owner Rafael Alvarez.

Rafael said his co-owner and wife, Kristen Alvarez, conducted a poll on Facebook to gauge customers’ plans to dine in on May 1. Over 400 indicated they would not dine-in and 48 said they would, he said.

“We definitely don’t want to be the guinea pig,” Rafael said. “I would rather wait a week and see where we are and reassess.”

While the dining room has been closed, Rafael said the restaurant has had the opportunity to reevaluate its products and processes.

“We’ve been able to really focus on our food,” he said. “That’s been a huge blessing because we’ve made several improvements to our food, our ice cream and menu offerings.”

Rafael said he and his wife are what is keeping the restaurant afloat. Reopening for dine-in could be a “do or die situation” if either co-owner is exposed to the virus, he said.

“We’re three months old and just signed a five-year lease,” Rafael said. “Honestly, the stakes are very high, but all we can do right now is just proceed with caution and try not to get sick."


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