"We did not get hit all of February and the first week of March," Au-Yeung said. "Now, it's not good, not good at all. Before it was an Asian community issue, now it's an issue for everybody."
Au-Yeung said he removed one-third of the tables at his restaurant on March 11 to allow customers to keep their distance. He still had plenty of customers at that point despite other business owners in Katy Asian Town who experienced a significant decline in customers since February, according to Au-Yeung.
Other restaurant owners were affected sooner because 80% of their clientele is Asian, while Phat Eatery is mainly frequented by Americans, Au-Yeung said.
Katy Asian Town has progressively seen a decline in business over the last month, said Josie Lin, principal of Katy Asian Town.
Most new Asian immigrants living in the Katy area keep up with Asian news, which they were all closely monitoring as the coronavirus outbreak unfolded, she said.
"At the very beginning, a lot of Chinese in the area panicked because they saw the news out there," said Lin, who is also Chinese. "Also, we have a lot of people who travel from China, so that is why we became more cautious. When everything spread to the U.S., about one month later, more people began to panic and that is when Americans started to look to the issue."
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced at 5:15 p.m. March 16 that all Harris County bars must close, and restaurants are ordered to only offer takeout or delivery beginning 8 a.m. March 17. This decision was made based on recommendations from the president and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit all gatherings to 10 people or less.
The Texas Restaurant Association has been issuing guidelines for business owners to follow and identifying financial resources for owners and employees, said Anna Tauzin, the chief revenue and information officer for the Texas Restaurant Association.
"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," Tauzin said.
The Katy/Fort Bend Foodies Facebook group is tracking local restaurants' delivery and pick-up options, closures and cleaning procedures.
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 Shepherd's nonprofit organization, Southern Smoke. Its namesake barbecue festival scheduled for March 28 was canceled, but its emergency relief fund is still active.
Lin said she is working with a team to launch two platforms, one to consolidate marketing efforts for all restaurant owners in Katy Asian Town, and another to consolidate online orders and delivery services.
"I would suggest to-go orders," Lin said. "All customers can order food from Katy Asian town in one platform. If [locals] come out to restaurants, they have to wash their hands before they start to eat, but the best solution is to social distance for at least the next two weeks."
Au-Yeung said Phat Eatery offers curbside pick-up and payment and will offer a 15% discount on to-go orders as an incentive until at least the end of March.