The future is unknown for restaurants everywhere that have closed dining rooms. Courtesy iStock / Jaaske

News Bites

The Dallas Restaurant Industry May Never Be the Same Again

SideDish’s weekly digest of need-to-know dining happenings in Dallas: coronavirus edition part two.

Due to the global pandemic affecting every aspect of society, food news as usual is indefinitely on hold. So this week’s edition of News Bites, again for the second week in a row, will cover what’s relevant to Dallas dining right now.

I established in last week’s edition of News Bites that the state of the restaurant industry was going to be weird for awhile. That’s putting it very lightly and perhaps, I admit, too glibly. In the course of just under two weeks, the industry has suffered greatly.

On March 16, when restaurants and bars had to close dining rooms, many pivoted to takeout so fast it gave this editor a bit of whiplash just trying to keep up. (We’re still updating our takeout and delivery list daily, by the way.) I can only imagine how tough it was for restaurants and workers. Some, like Start Restaurant, didn’t last the week. Others fared better: Homewood’s family meals and farmer boxes (larder kits with fresh produce and pickled goods) sold out. As did Lucia and Macellaio’s to-go offerings. But it doesn’t equate to success necessarily. (We’ll go into more details on Lucia’s temporary closure below.)

Meanwhile, herein follows food news, the good, the heart-wrenching, the heart-warming, the hopeful, everything.

Shift Dallas Wants to Build a Better Restaurant Industry Than the One’s That’s Currently Crumbling.
The restaurant industry may never be the same again, and the team behind Shift Dallas are counting on it. Business as usual meant battling for sick leave and paid time off, it meant lack of health care benefits, it meant front and back of house workers were treated as expendable rather than the lifeblood of restaurants that they are. People like Seth Brammer and former Dallas Morning News food critic Leslie Brenner, among a strong team of others, want to change that. Brammer launched Shift Dallas’ website last week, ditto a survey to get a sense how great the need is from restaurant employees who found themselves out of work and cashflow. “Really when we started Shift, the first thing was to [ask], What actually needs to happen?” says Brammer. “We realized the biggest [hurdle] was getting good information and giving it to people who typically don’t ask for help.” 

They found that 22 percent of people they interviewed lost not one but two industry jobs. Fifty percent reported living with someone who also (previously) worked in the industry, which obviously makes paying for rent and other essentials overwhelming, if possibly insurmountable. Some 80 percent of front of house workers, he estimates, lost their jobs. “And I think that should piss people off,” says Brammer, who does not mince words about how destructive this whole ordeal is.

In Texas, 1.4 million jobs are at risk. Of those, an estimated 250,000 jobs are in Dallas County. Brammer and his team, like research director Brenda Ogershok who lost her job at Billy Can Can, are working on accumulating more reliable data and numbers in real time. Shift Dallas is sharing that collection of knowledge, resources, and information—where to find help or a meal from the likes of Heard That’s Staff Meal and Furlough Kitchen, for example—with folks who need it.

Brammer also hosts “The Late Shift With Seth” on Facebook Live nightly at 8 p.m. wherein he talks to fellow professionals in the restaurant world. He wants to give people a voice, a powerful one, so they can advocate for a better restaurant industry than the one they had to leave behind.

Lucia and Macellaio Regularly Sold Out of Its To-Go Meals. It Still Had to Shutter.
In an email this week, owners Jennifer and David Uygur announced that they’d close their Bishop Arts establishments for two weeks in order to regroup and re-strategize. They, like so many others, had to rapidly think on their feet as their dining rooms were forced to close.

“Last Monday, we had to furlough most of our front of the house staff. Some of whom had worked for us for years. Then, that same day, we had to swallow our heartache and come up with a way to flip our fine dining restaurant to become a curbside pickup restaurant run by a skeleton crew,” it read.

They pulled together a curbside to-go menu and were off the races. And they often sold out! It was seemingly a success but, the Uygurs explain, “Just because we sell out the day’s to-go dinners doesn’t mean we’ve made enough to cover all the expenses we need to.” And more than just money, they considered the health of their employees. While they safely prepared the food and sanitized often, they couldn’t justify staying open; their staff couldn’t maintain a safe social distance in the small kitchens. “Is it worth asking an immunocompromised employees to come in to work? What about employees who are pregnant or have kids at home?” they pondered. So, the Uygurs had to furlough more employees (if you’re hiring, let them know) and close up to reassess what this means for Lucia and Macellaio.

Okay, So What’s the Deal With Booze?
A week ago, SideDish reported that—huzzah!—Texas was joining other states in allowing alcohol takeout and delivery from establishments that didn’t have the specific permits for such operation. So restaurants and bars, with the state’s blessing, started selling drinks with food orders. But the guidelines were murky and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had to rein a lot of folks in: Booze sold for takeout or delivery had to be sealed by the manufacturer, not the restaurant or bar. Which left out, well, several restaurants and bars. The Dallas Observer outlines why this move was, at the very least, confusing and at most really not helpful.

Meanwhile, on D Magazine

Eve Hill-Agnus wrote an actionable and informative post about how to help the restaurant industry right now. You can also read it as a totally uplifting aggregation of the good so many folks are doing in Dallas.

The Double Wide is cracking us up with this goofy cocktail recipe for a vodka Yoo-hoo. The comedic relief is a welcome salve at the moment, when everything seems upside-down. The Deep Ellum bar-venue had been teaming up with Disco, TX to create episodes of entertainment on QuaranTV (think streamed band sets). Due to shelter in place, they’ve had to board up the space completely.

Speaking of Deep Ellum, have you ever been there on a quiet Friday night? Up until last weekend, we hadn’t either.

In case you missed the news, Headington Companies laid off something to the degree of 400 employees last week.

In more good news, coffee shop owners are getting creative with their now-empty spaces. Some have even become a drop-off site for personal protection equipment for health care workers.

Farmers markets like the one at Bonton Farms are still open. If you’re tired of the sad produce sections at big grocers, head to South Dallas.

One90 Smoked Meats has vacuum-sealed barbecue ready for delivery. Order your Easter ham or brisket asap.

If you are staying in and ordering takeout or delivery—and this is absolutely what you should do—then peep our list of restaurants (and markets and dessert shops) that are offering just that.

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