Even after Texas governor Greg Abbott’s executive order allowing restaurants to reopen their dining rooms at limited capacity goes into effect on May 1, Dallas dumpling staple Monkey King Noodle Company and many other local eateries will continue to keep their doors closed.
Owner Andrew Chen tells Eater that the Deep Ellum favorite just isn’t ready to reopen, considering the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic. “Out of an abundance of caution, we’re going to maintain our current model of takeout and deliveries only,” Chen says. “We’re going to reevaluate after May 10 and see how other restaurants are doing with a partial reopening.”
For Texas restaurants that do choose to reopen, they’ll be expected to keep diner capacity limited to just 25 percent of what’s allowed on their certificate of occupancy. That limit creates a complicated financial picture for independent restaurants, which operate on razor-thin margins even in the best of times, along with a host of concerns for restaurant owners who are trying to navigate this strange new world of safely serving their patrons during the middle of a pandemic.
At Monkey King, the challenges of reopening right now are mostly logistical. His Deep Ellum location is relatively small, with a maximum occupancy of just 42 people, and if he were to reopen right now, his restaurant’s communal seating set-up would only allow for about a dozen customers to be inside Monkey King alongside its kitchen and service staff. “Given Monkey King’s small dining room, it’s just not wise to have people in there eating right now,” Chen says. “I would much rather focus our staff on making our full menu available for take out and delivery or develop take home meal kits than having a potential health crisis if there is someone with COVID-19 in the restaurant.”
Even before Abbott announced these updated guidelines, though, people in the DFW suburb of Colleyville demonstrated that many of them are itching to return to their normal dining-out routines. After the city’s mayor allowed restaurants to reopen their patios in defiance of the statewide “stay at home” guidelines, diners packed into local favorites like Gloria’s Latin cuisine, many ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Ultimately, time will tell whether or not Abbott’s decision to “reopen” many of the state’s businesses on May 1 was wise. Dallas County is home to more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and dozens of new cases are confirmed daily. And as the Houston Chronicle reported, cases of COVID-19 are still on the rise in Texas, and the state is still not administering enough tests to adequately depict the scope of the spread of the virus.
Even outside of any lingering safety concerns, the increase from empty dining rooms to just 25 percent capacity is not enough to keep many of these businesses afloat. Brooks Anderson, who co-owns popular neighborhood spots Rapscallion, Boulevardier, and Veritas Wine Room, says that he isn’t planning to reopen his restaurants on May 1, either.
“I have a hard time understanding how a neighborhood bistro can operate at 25 percent capacity,” Rapscallion and Boulevardier co-owner Brooks Anderson said. “Restaurants have a hard enough time operating at 100 percent capacity, hence the high-profile closings you see every single year.”
Jon Alexis, owner of two TJ’s Seafood Market locations and the Malibu Poke mini-chain, says that he’s not willing to risk the safety of his patrons and employees for such a marginal increase in revenue. “There’s no economic value that could justify our employees’ health, but if there was, 25 percent sure as shit ain’t worth it,” Alexis says. “You’re telling us that we’re supposed to pick up dirty plates with saliva on them? All to seat a few tables? I don’t envy the elected officials who are trying to make a lot of people happy here, but this is an empty gesture.”
The concerns from these Texas restaurateurs are eerily similar to those voiced by restaurant owners in Georgia, which allowed restaurants to reopen at limited capacity on April 27. There, many restaurateurs also decided to keep their dining rooms closed while continuing takeout and delivery service, while others described Georgia governor Brian Kemp’s decision to allow reopenings as “unsafe and irresponsible.”
Despite these lingering fears about finances and health, other restaurateurs are desperate to get the doors back open. Dallas-based spots Shell Shack, Sushi Marquee, and Ebb & Flow all plan to reopen on May 1 while observing the 25 percent capacity rule. The same goes for Trinity Groves, the West Dallas restaurant development that houses spots like Beto and Son, Kate Weiser Chocolate, and the brand new Sum Dang Good Chinese. all of which will also reopen on Friday.
“No restaurant can survive at 25 percent capacity, but it’s a start, and we can only hope for continued improvement,” says Dallas Hale, CEO of the restaurant group that operates local spots Shell Shack, Sushi Marquee, and Ebb & Flow. “We have seen a decent amount of sales via pickup and takeout, so we’re hoping that this is just another source for additional income.”