Bryan and College Station leaders ordered bar and restaurant dining rooms to close and prohibited public gatherings of more than 10 people as of Wednesday night — a change that has some local owners shutting their doors as others scramble to find new ways to deliver food.
The rules, a joint statement states, follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement comes after both cities issued declarations of disasters on Tuesday. The orders will be in effect as long as the declaration of disaster remains in place.
Brazos County health officials announced Wednesday two additional cases of COVID-19. Details were not immediately available. In Grimes County, officials said a man in his 50s had tested positive for the virus, which he contracted while traveling.
Wednesday’s decision was a collaborative effort between city officials, the Brazos County Health District and the newly established Bryan-College Station Independent Restaurant Group, which represents dozens of restaurants that employ more than 1,000 people.
“We understand that these actions are painful to our business community, but we also know these actions work to help prevent the spread of this virus,” College Station Mayor Karl Mooney said in the release. “Along with our partners in the community, we will be exploring all options for helping these businesses weather this unprecedented event.”
The Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce is working to keep the public safe, President and CEO Glen Brewer said, but also ensure that “we have healthy, strong businesses to come back to when this is over.” Brewer said chamber leaders are notifying elected officials that the community is in need of help and immediate relief.
“It gets harder every day,” Brewer said, “and probably not everyone will make it.”
The chamber will be conducting a survey soon to determine the areas of the community most impacted by recent changes to pass along to local officials in an effort to receive assistance.
Kristy Petty, owner of The Village in Downtown Bryan, closed her restaurant’s dining area the day before the city’s new regulations went into effect, but is still open for pick up and delivery. While she has kept everyone on staff, Petty said she asked those who could afford to take time off to do so, and 10 of her 20 staff members volunteered.
Petty, a representative of the Bryan-College Station Independent Restaurant Group, said she and other business owners are implementing food delivery and pickup systems so people can safely purchase items. She said taking advantage of those new options can help support the restaurants through a time of change.
Restaurants are “going above and beyond health codes” in an effort to stay in business and keep customers and employees safe, President of Brazos Valley Restaurant Association Blake Zeitman said.
Additionally, Zeitman said grocery stores are “incapable of handling the volume” of customers if restaurants were completely shut down. With more than 1 million employees in the hospitality industry in Texas, Zeitman said it’s important to keep things moving to avoid “somewhat of an economic disaster.”
“I just encourage everyone to continue to eat out... almost every restaurant has found a way to do either curbside or pickup or delivery, and I know a lot of the third-party delivery services are waiving their fees for delivery,” Zeitman said. “Try to continue to support your local restaurants.”
With about 120 employees spread across four restaurants, a food truck and catering company in Bryan and College Station, owner and chef Tai Lee said he is trying his best to keep things running for the sake of everyone working for him. Lee runs Madden’s Casual Gourmet, Urban Table, Veritas Wine and Bistro, Paolo’s Italian Kitchen and Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro food truck and Chef Tai’s catering.
Since his restaurants are sitdown dining places, Lee said he is working with his teams to create to-go menus and creating family meal kits that could be picked up or delivered to certain locations via the food truck. Information will be available in the coming days at cheftai.com.
The Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux franchise opened a College Station location two weeks ago after three-and-a-half years of trying. On Tuesday, the restaurant started offering a curbside option, and allowing customers to call in their orders.
“God guided us through that process and we have faith he will guide us through this, too,” Franchisee Jenny Davis said in an email. “We went from a two-week honeymoon to watching our whole world change. We will continue to navigate this by helping our community and trying to provide for our team of almost 200 people.”
Café Eccell, Shipwreck Grill, 3rd on Main and Amico Nave have all closed this week with hopes to reopen, citing the coronavirus as their reason.
Concerned that he will not be able to keep everyone on staff if he continues to see the extremely low customer turnout he has noticed in recent days, Lee said he is also giving employees information on how to claim unemployment benefits.
“Everybody is suffering through it,” Lee said. “You can complain all you want but no one is going to hear, so you just have to soldier on.”