The Coronavirus pandemic has affected how we live our lives every single day. The populace is staying indoors away from others and practicing extreme precautionary measures to stay safe. This has caused extreme damage to the restaurant industry and may be the greatest crisis the industry has ever seen. The National Restaurant Association says, as of December 1, 2020, more than 110,000 eating and drinking businesses were either closed temporarily, or for good. Total loss to the industry is a devastating $240 billion in restaurant sales.
In Texas alone, 30% of operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government, according to the Texas Restaurant Industry. Early in March, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that restaurants, bars and other businesses, could resume operations on Wednesday, March 10 at 100% capacity. There are concerns among some owners that a surge in COVID cases will force new restrictions. And there’s another fear among a subset of struggling eateries.
Is it too late?
In March of 2020, the Texas economy came to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19. An explosion of coronavirus cases hit the lone star state causing government officials to take action. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg forced all bars and restaurants to close to prevent the spread of the virus. Only takeout and delivery were later allowed to resume. Since those stay-at-home orders, both local and large chain restaurants have been impacted. Local small restaurants suffered the most. La Placita Café is a local family restaurant that is located on the west side of San Antonio. The Mexican restaurant has been serving the westside community for the last ten years. The owner and her daughter share their battle on how they kept their doors open through these unstable economic conditions caused by the pandemic.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s declaration of restricted restaurant dining was a devastating blow to La Placita because the restaurant was dine-in only. Owner Flavia Mancha tried servicing curbside orders, but it was not enough. They weren’t equipped for the change because the establishment lacked a drive thru which was a dire necessity to the survival of any restaurant during this pandemic.
“I was scared of what was going to become of our restaurant,” Jackie Mancha said. She’s the daughter of the owner. “My entire family works here, it would be detrimental to us all if we were to close.” This is when the owner’s survival instinct kicked in and pulled together enough funds to modify the restaurant to include a drive thru, making carryout and drive through orders possible. Mancha explained if they were to survive the pandemic changes and sacrifices needed to be made. Of those sacrifices included laying off half of her employees. Mancha said it was a dire situation and sacrifices needed to be made for the survival of the restaurant. Flavia had to lay off one employee who, more than any other, illustrates how dire things were.
Governor Abbott let bars and restaurants reopen in April of 2020. Then in June, he closed bars and reduced restaurant capacity to 50%, according to the Texas Tribune. Mancha said even that has been an improvement. Now that the restaurant utilizes both dine in and drive through business has been steady. She and her family could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the restaurant will survive.
Despite the survival of the restaurant Jackie Mancha said she misses having the restaurant running without the worry of getting sick. “If somebody sneezes if somebody coughs,” Jackie Mancha said. “You always have that fear of getting sick and taking it home with you.”
Another local restaurant that was affected by the pandemic was Zito’s. Zito’s is a local sandwich shop which first opened their doors in San Antonio, Texas, in 1974. Owner Brad Zito explains how, throughout the 47 years of his business, the pandemic was the most unforeseen obstacle the restaurant has ever faced.
Zito predicted the pandemic was going to be temporary and did not expect it to last. However, his expectations of the pandemic were far from the truth. He explained because of the longevity of the pandemic every aspect of his business was affected. Keeping the restaurant supplied was the worst. Higher prices and less availability of products strained the owner. “One of our vendors that supply us a particular product totally went out of business,” Zito said. “Which we have been using for our entire 47 years in business.” The owner quickly had to find a new supplier because it is one of the prize products Zito’s frequently sells and is known for. Zito explained the struggle of finding a new supplier is not easy, but it is even more strenuous in the middle of a pandemic.
Though the pandemic affected every aspect of the business, Zito’s was fortunate to stay open without any closures. He shared how he strategized to perfect the restaurant’s to-go packaging to ensure freshness with every carryout.
Despite the economic crisis the coronavirus pandemic has created for the restaurant industry, the containment of the virus was and is still important. Registered nurse Sabina Patel explains she still sees a steady number of COVID 19 patients being admitted every day. The number of survivors has gone up, but the number of cases still remain high.
Patel explains how the coronavirus pandemic has taken many lives and has changed how health care providers interact and care for patients. Patel said it has been extremely difficult working in the medical field during this pandemic.
“Knowing that someone’s family member is very sick, about to die, and without any family around is heartbreaking,” Patel said.
Patel says people did not take the virus seriously and too many continued to go out without a mask, even after the mask mandate was declared by officials. Restaurants should have continued take out only for a longer period of time to prevent the chance of the virus being contained in a place of business, she said. “I think this might be our new normal,” Patel said.
“We will have to wear masks all the time now.”