Restaurant owner Chris O’Donnell said the local community was a big help to his business, Craft Grill, located at 25219 Kuykendahl Road, Ste. G110, Tomball, during the shutdown.
“We did very well to-go and carry-out, better than I ever could have dreamed,” O’Donnell said. “We're just down a little over 50%, so that's much better than a lot of my competition and it was able to keep the staff making some money. The community has been extremely generous to me by coming [to order carry-out], and to my staff by overwhelming them with their generosity.”
Now that dining rooms are allowed to operate, O’Donnell said his business will be able to begin the recovery process.
“We're a mom and pop restaurant,” O’Donnell said. “This community really loves us; they've shown that in the past. With the 25% seating and the to-go that we have, I think we're going to be just fine. I think sales will be close to what our normal sales were year-over-year.”
O’Donnell said receiving federal financial aid from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program was a saving grace for the restaurant. However, due to the loan’s requirement for businesses to reach 75% of payroll, O’Donnell said operating dining rooms at 25% capacity might not be enough.
“The problem ... with 25% seating [is that my staff is] not going to make as much money and their tips count towards my payroll,” O’Donnell said. “Even though I'm paying them everything I did beforehand, their tips are going to be down so it makes my payroll not meet the number the government's asking me for.”
Despite the challenge, O’Donnell said he believes Craft Grill will be able to garner the necessary business to keep operations afloat.
Some local business owners, however, have decided to keep their dining rooms closed and maintain operations as is.
With 20 years in business, Debbie Gainor, co-owner of Pizza Zone, located at 4660 Louetta Road, Ste. 130, Spring, said operating a to-go model was an easy return to the restaurant’s early days.
“We started out at the corner of Kuykendahl [Road] and Cypresswood [Drive] for 17 years just doing carry-out [and] delivery only,” Gainor said.”We moved over to our Louetta store back in 2017 and that's when we first had our dining room. So, when we were told that we had to shut our dining room down, it was really old business for us because we've been doing pizza delivery and carry-out for so long.”
Pizza Zone was also early to implement social distancing restrictions, Gainor said, in hopes of risking exposure to the virus.
“We closed our dining room down a week before it was mandated, just because we didn't want the added pressure of having to keep everything really sanitized [at the restaurant] with customers out there because we're a small store and if one of us gets sick, we're all going to get sick," she said.
While many businesses took a hit in revenue amid the pandemic, Gainor said Pizza Zone actually experienced an increase in business as a result of family-pack items added to the menu. Gainor said she has no plans to reopen the dining area until the end of the month.
“It just takes away from our staff from doing the job that we're already doing,” Gainor said. “Second of all, we also don't want any more exposure to people, for ourselves and for our employees, because our employees will have to go home to their families, too.”
Robin Nou, co-owner of Robin’s Snowflake Donuts & Cafe, located at 4660 Louetta Road, Ste. 170, Spring, said her business’s dining room is too small to accommodate customers while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“We definitely respect [Gov. Abbott’s] decision to reopen, ... it must have been a very difficult decision to make, but something's got to be done in order to get the economy going,” Nou said. “As for us, ... we don't feel that with our space, that we'd be able to accommodate dine-in service as well as allow carry-out, which is what we're doing right now, and for everyone to feel safe.”
Nou said returning to pre-pandemic operations would pose too high of a risk for the family-run business.
“Because we're a small business, this is our only source of income [and] if we were to shut down because one of us were sick, it would totally cripple us,” Nou said. “We just try to be as cautious as possible, watching out for our staff and watching out for our guests, because we know that's important to them as well. We don't want anybody to get sick.”
While Robin’s Snowflake Donuts & Cafe will continue to offer take-out options and curbside pickup, Nou said the business misses the interaction with customers that dine-in allows.
“Parents would bring in their kids before school, they'd have breakfast on weekends; we'd have a lot of families popping in and we definitely miss that,” Nou said. “We miss seeing the little kids over at our place and you know just chit-chatting and stuff like that. It's definitely a change in that aspect, but, hopefully things will go back to normal soon.”
According to Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Bobby Lieb, while the governor’s plan to gradually reopen the state is a step towards economic recovery from the pandemic, other challenges await even when businesses are able to operate at full capacity.
“It's certainly going to help, because it is giving people permission to come out and start opening for business,” Lieb said. “It's giving people permission to come out and patronize those businesses with the hope that people start spending again. Now, ... to the degree that it'll help remains to be seen, because what will affect this more than anything is consumer confidence.”