Some Houston Restaurants Take Proactive Steps to Slow COVID-19 As Abbott Pauses Reopening — Updated

In the wake of two straight days of recording breaking levels of new COVID-19 cases — over 5,000 per day — and with Texas Medical Center ICU beds completely occupied (albeit with contingency bedspace available elsewhere), Texas Governor Greg Abbott “paused” his aggressive reopening plan on June 25. In a statement released today, he said, “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for businesses.”

For Houston-area restaurant and bars, this means that restaurant capacity is frozen at 75 percent and bar capacity will remain at 50 percent. These are the Phase Three levels that were announced on June 3. Since a timetable for opening additional capacity had not been released, this announcement makes no changes to how area restaurants and bars are currently required to operate.

On Friday, June 26, Abbot issued a new executive order that reduced restaurant dine-in capacity to 50 percent, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, June 29 and that closes bars at noon on Friday, June 26 (though, based on the wording of the order and a chart posted by TABC, there may be some to-go options for bars; more details to come.)

For those restaurants that are open, they must still operate under state-mandated health protocols but with very few official rules on how to deal with employees or guests who test positive for COVID-19.

However, as Houston-area case counts continue to spike and many restaurants and bars have temporarily closed voluntarily because employees have tested positive for coronavirus, several restaurant owners have decided to take matters into their own hands by implementing their own, stricter measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Woodfired Pizza at Rosie Cannonball, which is returning to curbside and delivery as COVID-19 cases spike in the Houston area. Photo by Julie Soefer.

After temporarily closing Rosie Cannonball and Montrose Cheese and Wine because an employee tested positive for coronavirus, Goodnight Hospitality has, after employees were tested, decided to reopen today, June 25, for curbside pickup and delivery only. The dining room remains closed until further notice. Rosie Cannonball is open for curbside and direct delivery Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 to 9 p.m. You can place orders online. Montrose Cheese and Wine is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. and also accepts online orders.

Koffeteria, the east downtown café at 1110 Hutchins known for creative pastries, such as its beef phở kolache and Hot Cheetos Croissant, announced on June 23 that it is voluntarily closing its dining room but is offering takeout and curbside pickup. In a statement, chef and owner Vanarin Kuch said, “With the uprising of Covid-19 cases in Houston, Koffeteria has decided in order to protect our patrons and especially our employees; to temporarily suspended indoor dining services.” He added, “Everyone in the shop must wear a mask (which we’ve been implementing since day one). Customers who do not have a mask will be given the choice to order online (outside) or wear a disposable mask provided by Koffeteria.”

For those who want to enjoy al fresco dining, Koffeteria’s back patio remains open, joining coffee shops such as Antidote and Black Hole, which recently reopened patios with social-distancing protocols but have kept indoor seating closed to customers. Another EaDo favorite, Nancy’s Hustle, has not reopened its dining room and has only been offering takeout since March. This is also the case for another creative bakery, Fluff Bake Bar. Its 16-seat dining room has remained closed since its new Heights location opened on March 21. However, they are and will continue to be open for takeout, curbside and delivery only.

Yesterday, Heights coffee and doughnut shop Morningstar, which is at 4721 North Main, announced is was closing its dining room on June 25. Takeout will still be available. Meanwhile, representatives for Montrose coffee shop Blacksmith announced that it is delaying plans to reopen its dining room.

Round blue and white plate with chicken and beef skewers, vegetables, and orange/brown peanut sauce.
Satay Skewers at Phat Eatery, which are available with chicken or beef and accompanied by peanut sauce. Photo by Chuck Cook Photography.

Owner Alex Auyeung of Phat Eatery, the popular Katy Malaysian restaurant at 23119 Colonial Parkway, voluntarily decided to reduce dining room capacity to 25 percent. (Under the current Open Texas guidelines, it can legally operate at 75 percent). Owner Alex Au-Yeung says, “With the increase in COVID-19 cases in Texas, we did consider going back to to-go and curbside. However, our customers in Katy behave extremely well, respect the need for masks when not at the table and understand the social distancing requirements. Since the start of the mask order, we had only two people come in without a mask. We gave them each one and they had no problem putting it on. So, we’ve decided for now to just reduce capacity to ensure that our guests feel safe dining in. Yes, we will lose some revenue, but everyone’s safety is still a priority.”

A selection of meats and sides at Brett's Barbecue Place
A selection of meats and sides at Brett’s BBQ Shop. Photo by Ben Sassani.

Phat Eatery isn’t the only Katy eatery taking extra precautions, Brett’s BBQ Shop‘s small dining room has remained closed since the beginning of this crisis and will continue to offer curbside pickup only.

Prego, chef John Watt’s Rice Village Italian eatery at 2520 Amherst, also closed its dining room and returned to offering curbside pickup, as well as delivery via Favor, for the next several weeks. The announcement said, “Based on what we are seeing in the hospitality industry throughout Houston and at the advice of the medical center community’s leaders, we feel the best thing to do is pivot back to the way we were operating when the shutdown began.” In addition to family to-go meals, Prego is offering 25-percent off of wine and also has to-go cocktails available.

On Friday, June 26, Cavatore Italian Restaurant, which serves classic Italian comfort food in Timbergrove/Lazybrook at 2120 Ella, announced, “We feel that it is in the best interest of our BELOVED community, staff, family and friends to remain open for #togo orders only.”

Also, on Friday, Roost, the Montrose bistro at 1972 Fairview known for its innovative use of local ingredients, announced that Saturday, June 27 would be its last day of dine-in service until further notice. Starting Monday, June 29, Roost will be returning to takeout and curbside pickup only.

In additional, Golden Bagels & Coffee is continuing to do takeout only. Just order online — you can even get a dozen bagels and cream cheese for the week — and then swing by to pick it up on the patio. You don’t even have to go in the building.

As the Houston-area continues to deal with the sharp increases in COVID-19 cases, we expect that other establishments will likely take similar proactive steps. If you hear of any places that are, please email us.

Added Fluff Bake Bar June 25, 7:45 p.m.

Updated June 26, 11:01 a.m. to reflect new executive order issued by Abbott.

Added Cavotore June 26, 4:04 p.m.

Added Roost and Golden Bagels June 27, 4:37 p.m.

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