Here's how some Houston restaurant owners are combating coronavirus fears

Houston restaurant owners are seeking support amidst coronavirus fears. (Courtesy Pexels)
Houston restaurant owners are seeking support amidst coronavirus fears. (Courtesy Pexels)

Houston restaurant owners are seeking support amidst coronavirus fears. (Courtesy Pexels)

Houston restaurant owners are taking precautions to protect customers and keep businesses running while coronavirus fears mount.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that all city-sponsored and produced events are on hold through the end of March. Local school districts and universities are extending spring breaks and considering more long-term closures. The goal, health officials have said, is to reduce the speed at which the virus spreads and prevent a potential overload of the city’s health care system.

Meanwhile, restaurant owners are making adaptations to ensure that employees and guests are safe. Some are canceling events, and most are ramping up sanitation efforts beyond what the city’s health code regularly requires.

“We’re preaching things like no touching of the nose, eyes, mouth, and our runners and bussers are wearing gloves and wiping down door knobs every 15 minutes,” said Jason Mok, a partner at FM Kitchen & Bar near Washington Avenue. “A lot of it is the type of stuff that we usually do anyway, but we’re being even more careful.”

The Texas Restaurant Association has been issuing guidelines for business owners to follow and identifying financial resources for owners and employees.

"The first thing to remember is that this is a public health crisis not a foodborne one. Restaurants are not on the front lines of this. People need to be responsible for themselves where ever they are," said Anna Tauzin, the chief revenue and information officer for the Texas Restaurant Association.

She said those who do not feel comfortable dining out should consider ordering takeout or delivery and buying gift cards from local restaurants. In the meantime, the association is providing information to restaurant owners about how to apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration.

Any member of the restaurant industry, from truck drivers and servers to chefs and owners, can also apply for assistance through local chef Chris Sheperd's nonprofit organization, Southern Smoke. Its namesake barbecue festival scheduled for March 28 was canceled but its emergency relief fund is still active.

Kevin Naderi, chef and owner of Roost in Montrose and consultant for Heights ice cream shop Sweet Bribery, said that while he is ramping up sanitation efforts and experiencing lighter crowds, he wants to encourage the elderly and at-risk population to stay home.

“A meal is a meal, we’ll make it through this,” he said. “We’re all going to need a big boost when this is over.”

Some local businesses have found success with to-go and delivery services to serve those who plan to stay home. Emily Ferrara, owner of Orange Artichoke Kitchen, a homemade prepared meal service in the Heights, said she has seen her customers start to buy larger quantities of her meals, which can be frozen.

“If you’re stuck at home, we can provide a more flavorful meals than the rice and beans everyone is stocking up on,” Ferrara said.

Other business owners, including Bobby Heugel the restaurateur behind establishments in the Heights, Montrose and downtown, took to social media to post updates about sanitation practices and employee policies, including offering paid sick leave and cleaning door handles every 15 minutes.

"Thank you all for your support and diligence in practicing good hygiene. Please stay at home if you are sick. We appreciate your commitment to our places and to our wonderful staff," Heugel wrote in the post.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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