Operating at 25% capacity, the downtown Frisco wine bar and restaurant is limiting seating to 10 people inside and just seven tables on its patio. But the live music the eatery is known for hosting added a sense of normalcy to the atmosphere, Nassef said.
“People that were walking down the street would kind of stop for a minute and listen to the band, [while] hanging outside of the fence to maintain social distance,” Nassef said. “It just kind of gave the neighborhood, in my opinion and I think most other people's opinions, almost a vibe of ‘we’re coming back.’”
Nassef said the restaurant was mostly at capacity that first weekend after reopening and has already been booking reservations several weeks in advance.
“We were very thankful and appreciative of everyone's support,” Nassef said. “Everyone was thanking us for opening up. That was nice to see that people were coming out and supporting us and socializing in an appropriate way.”
While eight11 regulars are used to enjoying musical acts four days a week, he said the business has suspended music on Wednesdays until more seating is allowed by the state.
When Gov. Greg Abbott announced that restaurants could reopen for dining May 1, Nassef said he and his staff were initially caught off guard.
“We had people calling for reservations before Gov. Abbott left the stage,” Nassef said. “We were expecting it to be another week down the road or so.”
Another wrinkle the business had to deal with was the fact that Nassef’s wife and fellow co-owner, Marianne Nassef, was out of the state on military reserve duty the weekend the restaurant reopened.
“I missed her,” Josh Nassef said with a laugh. “It was a lot of work in a very short amount of time. And thank goodness we had we received the [Paycheck Protection Program loan], so I was able to grab some staff and put them into different roles to help get us back ready to go.”
Nassef said the federal loan allowed eight11 to bring back all of its employees who wanted to come back from furlough. The restaurant plans to continue its curbside pickup service, but Nassef said the business needed to reopen for dining to survive.
“[Curbside] was not keeping us anywhere near what our previous revenue was,” he said. “That's not the model that eight11 was built around. And it's not the model that can support us and sustain us.”
To keep everyone safe, the restaurant co-owner said he has staff answer health questionnaires before clocking in. And while everyone wears gloves while working with and delivering food, Nassef said they are not wearing masks.
“It doesn't present a comfortable environment if the person taking your order is wearing a mask,” Nassef said. “We make sure that our staff is healthy—we’re verifying that first.”
He said restaurant staff also wash their hands “constantly,” which is not all that different than before the coronavirus pandemic.
“Nothing that we do really has changed—to quote an old Spinal Tap [line]–we've just turned it up to 11,” Nassef said. “Standard operating procedures are based around the health and safety of the customers. As a neighborhood restaurant, we want to make sure that our neighborhood is safe, that our customers are safe, that our staff are safe and we can leave this behind us and continue to go forward.”