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On June 26, I found myself gazing at my crew with great pride as they prepared the food and the dining room for the weekend. Since the first shutdown they had managed numerous changes, demands and uncertainties – never knowing what their shifts or incomes would look like due to the ever-changing executive orders. Despite all this, they were still smiling in preparation for their best service. As we readied for what we thought would be a busy weekend, I felt hopeful and happy that we could see our way through this challenge.
Just two hours prior to opening, I received the news: all businesses with a red 51 percent sign were to shut down at noon. The 51 percent sign is a gun control sign established in 1993 to protect bar owners. When a restaurant or bar initially applies for a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission license, those projecting higher alcohol sales will receive a red 51 percent sign. This informs gun owners that they may not carry a weapon into the establishment. Those projecting higher food sales receive a blue sign. When we applied for our TABC license, we estimated possible higher beer sales than food for the first year. We didn’t know how popular our food was going to be.
Reading through the governor’s executive order, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My staff grew quiet, unsure if they would get cut from the schedule, or even laid off. Immediately after the news, customer calls started pouring in. I felt helpless hearing my crew trying to explain why we, and not others, were shut down. How do we explain to the public that we are closed because of a concealed weapons rule from 1993 that clearly holds no relevance to the current situation?
I had $3,000 of perishable food staring at me, in addition to the glaring cost of PPE, daily menu printing, QR codes for menus, sanitation stations, supplemental sanitary fogging of the building, and one-time use condiments, in addition to various ongoing expenses such as licensing fees, a City food certificate, and TABC license.
Converting a restaurant to a curbside only model is almost equivalent to that of starting a new business. In addition to that, packaging into cans is labor and product expensive for a small brewpub. The first shutdown in March taught us, as long as all restaurants and bars were shut down, we could survive a curbside model. As soon as those restaurants with a similar model as ours – but without the red TABC sign – were allowed to open, our sales dropped by 75 percent.
My initial reaction to our second shutdown order was to shut down completely. Then, I looked at my crew. I consider them the most important ingredient to our business. What would happen to them if I simply shut my doors without notice like the governor was demanding of us?
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Today, while packaging our curbside orders, we watch our business quickly dwindle. The entrepreneur side of me realizes that we have just a finite time to hold on. Every day my business, my dream and passion that is Künstler and its community, slowly falls to its knees, while chain restaurants with bars thrive.
If the governor deems it safe to open establishments that serve food and alcohol, then all similar businesses should be open. The decision should not be based on a gun control sign that was never meant to distinguish between a bar and a restaurant. The overall environment at a chain restaurant is almost identical to the environment at a local brewpub. If it is necessary to close establishments that serve food and alcohol, then all similar businesses should be closed. Otherwise, an unequal playing field is created – those allowed to stay open survive, while those forced into a curbside-only model die. Leveling the playing field will enable us and similar businesses to not only survive this pandemic but to continue to strengthen our part of the San Antonio community.