Wise County Messenger

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Restaurants to expand capacity to 75 percent Friday

PHASE III – Wise County restaurants will be allowed to open at 75 percent capacity starting Friday. Messenger Photo by Austin Jackson

As part of Phase III of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen Texas, restaurants in Wise County can open up their dining room capacity to 75 percent Friday – a welcome change for some restaurant owners, but a step too small for others.

Restaurants are among the businesses hit the hardest by capacity restrictions brought on by COVID-19 shutdowns. While boutiques and big box stores can manage at a limited capacity, 50 percent at restaurants that depend on breakfast, lunch and dinner rushes, has been a struggle.

Being able to open the Whistle Stop dining room to 75 percent capacity starting Friday is a welcome change for restaurant owner Vicky Barnes.

“It’s getting better; it’s finally getting better,” Barnes said. “You don’t know what it’s like when you have to turn customers away when you know you still have bills and taxes to pay.”

On June 3, Abbott announced Phase III, which allows Wise County businesses to open Friday at 75 percent capacity because there are less than 10 active COVID-19 cases and the county has an attestation on file with the state. As of Monday night, Wise County had five active cases. Businesses that previously had been able to operate at 100 percent capacity can continue to do so, Abbott said in a statement. Although counties with high COVID-19 numbers can also operate at increased capacity in Phase III, they still remain under tighter restrictions than Wise.

While established restaurants were hit hard by the restricitons, the opening of new businesses were put on hold.

Raquel Petway, who’s opening State Street Pizza Company on the Decatur Square, said after capacity limits of 25 percent were put in place, they delayed opening the restaurant.

At 75 percent, it’s at least feasible, she said.

“The coronavirus slowed us down in general,” Petway said. “We’ve been dragging our feet. We couldn’t open at 25 percent.”

While she hoped for an earlier grand opening pre-pandemic, Petway expects to open the downtown pizzeria’s doors in about a month after interviewing, hiring and training staff.

Although 50 percent and 75 percent capacities were enough to reopen some dining rooms, Kraig Thome, owner of gogo gumbo in Boyd, said he doesn’t plan on opening for dine-in until capacity restrictions are completely lifted.

“75 percent doesn’t get us to where we need to be,” Thome said. “Having 35 to 40 people at the restaurant at a time doesn’t work for us.”

Capacity restrictions aren’t a one-size fits all reprieve for business owners. For Thome, he said the business is staying afloat through takeout, the Bake Shop and cooking classes.

A central factor in keeping the dining room closed, Thome said, is concerns that wait staff wouldn’t be able to earn a liveable wage if they went from serving 160 people, compared to 200 to 300 per night.

“The first thing I have to consider is my employees,” Thome said. “We shut down to get our staff on unemployment. The last thing I want to do is bring them back too early. I need them to make a sustainable income.”

Thome is also concerned about the level of hospitality he can offer, with wait staff and others donning face masks.

The gogo gumbo owner, as well as other local restaurateurs, hope the next phase of reopening bumps their capacity the final 25 percent, returning them to normal operations.

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