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A Server At Dallas Steakhouse Town Hearth Tests Positive for COVID-19

The restaurant employee was sent home on March 13 after they reported feeling sick. It's the first reported coronavirus case at a local restaurant.

A server employed at Town Hearth, prolific restaurateur Nick Badovinus’ steakhouse in the Design District, has tested positive for COVID-19. This makes Town Hearth the first restaurant in Dallas to report a positive case of the disease caused by the coronavirus. The positive test was confirmed Wednesday afternoon and filed in Tarrant County. 

The server reported feeling unwell on Friday, March 13 and was sent home. That night and Saturday represented “more or less a regular weekend” in terms of numbers at the restaurant, Badovinus says. Town Hearth, like all of the restaurants in the Flavor Hook portfolio, is closed as of the March 16 ban on in-room dining. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there’s no current evidence that COVID-19 is transferred through food. Food borne exposure isn’t a known route to illness. The illness is spread from person to person via respiratory droplets, largely through coughing or sneezing. That’s why public health officials have urged everyone to maintain distances of at least six feet between one another. But the novel coronavirus can also live on hard surfaces for hours and sometimes days, requiring frequent cleaning, disinfecting, and thorough hand washing. Badovinus has been talking with health experts about best practices. But all of these matters are why bars and dine-in restaurants became early casualties of the public health prohibitions.

Upon hearing of the diagnosis, Badovinus reached out immediately, through PR agent Marcela Salazar, who was hired yesterday. He says he is being transparent in order to allow diners and others to trace back their steps. Badovinus says Town Hearth is notifying every customer who made a reservation since February 28, using the phone numbers entered in their reservations system, and asking them to notify others in their parties. This notification policy will not, obviously, address walk-ins.

Already, the staff had been admonished to take all appropriate precautions while on shift, practicing “hyper-vigilance” in sanitation and following the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Everybody was aware of what was happening,” Badovinus says in regard to the general need for precaution in a highly uncertain climate. During Friday’s shift, all servers wore gloves, he says.

Once Badovinus heard the report from the server on the afternoon of March 18, the steps were swift in a week that has brought its share of about-turns. “My first step was to reach out to the server to make sure they were okay, realizing it could be really terrifying and scary,” Badovinus says. Next, general managers contacted all employees.

“Again, the whole reason is about transparency,” Badovinus says. “As a citizen, as a business owner, a dad, a son, I wanted to create real communication. Transparency and honesty has always served our business really well.”  

For privacy reasons, Flavor Hook is unable to disclose details about the server’s identity—age, gender, place of residence. Per CDC guidelines, “If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality.” Dallas County will likely provide more information regarding the individual’s age, gender, and current condition. 

Calls to Dallas County and city were made, though Badovinus says “they’re overwhelmed,” and that initiatives were taken “100 percent internally.” This includes a statement on the Town Hearth website, slated to go up today, informing the public of the situation and offering a link to the CDC as well as a reminder and plea to take all necessary precautions.

“It’s obviously an opportunity to show leadership, and we didn’t ask for this,” Badovinus says. “This has been kind of thrust upon us. Like everything in life, you’ve got a couple different ways you can handle things. [But] it’s really not much to think about. Whatever the risk is—and it’s hard to step up—but it’s such a future-trajectory-changing event that I want to see this behind us. I want our community to be safe.”

“This is real, and if the whole community isn’t committed to breaking the back of this thing, it could be a really long slog,” Badovinus says. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Anyone experiencing those symptoms is asked to call their doctor and the county’s coronavirus hotline, at 972.692.2780.