Dining in: Tomball, Magnolia restaurants have mixed feelings about eased coronavirus restrictions

As Gianna Italian Kitchen reopens up to 25% capacity, to-go services will continue indefinitely. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)
As Gianna Italian Kitchen reopens up to 25% capacity, to-go services will continue indefinitely. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)

As Gianna Italian Kitchen reopens up to 25% capacity, to-go services will continue indefinitely. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)

With Gov. Gregg Abbott’s announcement to reopen the Texas economy starting May 1, businesses in Tomball and Magnolia can begin the shift back to normal.

Starting May 1, restaurants are able to open their dining rooms back with up to 25% of their capacity, and retail businesses are able to open with 25% capacity, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.

Gianna Italian Kitchen will be following the 25% occupancy restriction, managing partner Roberta Caron said.

“We are completely booked between 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday evening,” she said.

Caron said the initial reaction to opening the dining room was mixed between excitement, hesitation and worry. However, Caron said she is excited to have customers at the restaurant again.

All the tables in the dining area are spread out to be 6 feet apart with no tables being able to seat more than six people.

“We are keeping the to-go [orders] alive and running because 25% of your seating cannot pay the bills,” Caron said.

The to-go option will be kept indefinitely, as customers have said they like having the option to purchase food to take home, she said.

Kelly Violette, the executive director of the Tomball Economic Development Corp., said reopening businesses will keep many hopeful for the future.

“Everybody is just excited to see it slowly starting to open, and everybody needed that little sense of hope,” she said. “Right now it’s like, 'OK, when is the next opening, when is the next step?'"

Sandy Barton, president of the Greater Magnolia Parkway Chamber of Commerce, said she is excited to see businesses begin to reopen, especially restaurant dining rooms.

“I know this has been extraordinarily difficult for our eating establishments,” she said. “But this 25% is 25% more than they had last week.”

Barton said ensuring customers and employees are safe is the most important so the coronavirus pandemic continues to go away.

As companies added online or new delivery options to serve customers amid the dine-in restrictions, Barton said businesses that have adapted new technologies to stay competitive will be able to continue to offer their new services in the future.

Victory Pie Co. & Cafe owner Sheila Blue said there has been a mixed reaction among the business community to be able to open at 25% capacity.

“It’s a challenge to know how to only let so many people in at a time,” she said.

Blue said the Magnolia cafe offers outside seating to help ensure customers are all a safe distance apart.

“We are grateful that we can open up and begin to let people come in, even just a little bit,” she said.

With a limited menu and pies selling well while dining rooms were closed, Blue said it is worth it to open back up the dining room.

However, not all businesses have found it easy to justify reopening their dining rooms. Tejas Chocolate & Barbecue decided not to open up its dining room yet, according to co-founder Scott Moore Jr.

“It’s hard to run a restaurant at 25% capacity while you still have 100% of overhead to cover,” he said.

Moore said online ordering and curbside pickup will continue until the restrictions are lessened again, at which point a decision to reopen the dining room will be re-evaluated.

Maintaining the demand for takeout orders is a key reason why some businesses have decided not to open back up, said Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The cost for employees may not be worth it to some,” he said. “We are trying to be patient and letting it ride, and hopefully we’ll see a change.”

Hillegeist said it depends on the type of business, as partially opening up a dining room is good for some while difficult or more costly for others.

“I believe we’re going to see Texans and Tomballians taking responsibility and playing it safe and adjusting to the new normal,” he said.