When Scott Agan planned to open a new location of Jersey Mike’s Subs near the Bridgeland neighborhood at 9822 Fry Road, Cypress, he had no idea his first day in business would coincide with the first day of a countywide mandate limiting restaurateurs to takeout and delivery services only in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Knowing about 75% of the business relied on takeout orders anyway, he said he decided to move forward with the opening March 18, supplemented by third-party delivery services DoorDash and Uber Eats. However, being a brand-new business, he said he needed to be creative in getting the word out.
Agan said he posted about the grand opening in local Facebook foodie groups, offering members an exclusive buy one, get one free deal. He said customers can call orders in ahead of time and arrange for curbside pickup if they do not feel comfortable coming into the store.
“[Customers] really don’t appear to be all that concerned,” he said. “They’re in good spirits, but I think they’re just looking for an escape.”
Being part of a larger franchise, Agan said he was not concerned about funding for things such as direct-mail advertising to help get the business off the ground.
Other locally owned eateries, however, might not be so lucky.
Longtime Cy-Fair restaurateur Mark McShaffry, who owns The Backyard Grill on Jones Road and co-owns Creekwood Grill on Telge Road, said some restaurant owners will be closing their doors at least temporarily as they lose more money staying open than closing during this time.
At his two local eateries, he said total sales at both locations have been about 25%-30% of typical sales.
“It’s a wait-and-see game,” McShaffry said. “I know how to do hurricanes; I know how to do floods. Usually during times like that is when the restaurant industry steps up to the plate and helps the community. It’s frustrating because now it’s the restaurants that need the help.”
Customers have continued to support his businesses by placing takeout orders and purchasing gift cards online to spend at a later date. But McShaffry said he fears the county will extend the 15-day order, and the damaging effects on the restaurant industry will be long lasting.
The Backyard Grill will remain open for as long as possible, but the team at Creekwood Grill is making the most of the slowed foot traffic by closing for a few days next week to do some remodeling work, he said.
McShaffry said he encourages customers to stop in to his restaurants to pickup food to go because although they partner with third-party delivery apps, he said restaurants pay a 20%-30% fee for each delivery, sometimes even losing money on orders.
“Most people are actually coming in,” he said. “I think they kind of want a little bit of normalcy, to talk to people and see how things are going.”
For baker Velma Perez, the slew of event cancellations and postponements due to social distancing have taken a toll on her business, CookieGram, which she runs out of her Cypress home. She specializes in decorative cookies, which are often ordered for birthday parties and other special events.
“When it comes to novelty items like things that I do, they fall very low on the list of needs,” she said. “Right now everyone is scrambling for supplies and groceries, which is also affecting what I do from home if I can’t find what I need in the way of flour, eggs, butter or sugar. Right now the shelves are empty.”
Perez said her business this week is down more than 50% in sales, and while CookieGram usually has a no-refund policy, Perez said she thought it was unethical to charge customers for something that was out of their control and has offered refunds for cancellations. In the meantime, she is offering themed, do-it-yourself cookie decorating kits for families to pick up and enjoy from the comfort of their homes.
Her goal is to offer something fun that might brighten someone’s day and help recoup some of that lost revenue. She said she hopes people remember the businesses that do not have brick-and-mortar storefronts and continue supporting them.
“I hope that I don’t have to close my doors. I’m hoping that the dust will settle,” Perez said. “This is my livelihood—this is my full-time job, not just a part-time hustle. I have to work at it just to stay afloat. I understand things will probably slow down, so you just have to take it one day at a time.”