The owners of Galaxy Cafe and Eldorado Cafe each pivoted quickly to a takeout-only model following the order from the city and county last week. They were able to maintain steady business, according to the owners, with Galaxy Cafe co-owner Kelly Chappell saying his company was doing well enough to pay employees while not paying rent or making a profit. But concerns over the safety of staff and the public led both ownership groups to close their restaurants over the weekend.
Chappell and his partners closed all five Galaxy Cafe locations, and Joel and Joanna Fried elected to close their massively popular Southwestern restaurant off Anderson Lane. Both ownership groups say they will remain closed until they can guarantee the safety of consumers and workers.
"I don’t think the decision makers understand the reality of what’s really going on in food service," Chappell told the Statesman Saturday. "If one of my employees unknowingly gets sick, then they are potentially exposing hundreds of customers and co-workers to the virus."
Galaxy Cafe and Eldorado Cafe join a growing list of restaurants making the choice to close. The group includes Olamaie, Veracruz All Natural, Magnolia Cafe, Jack Allen’s Kitchen and more.
Chappell has also been troubled by third-party employees and the behavior of customers. He says he’s seen delivery drivers coughing and touching their faces and witnessed customers with no regard for public spacing.
"People are still in denial," Chappell said, adding that he would be shocked if the city does not force everyone to close down by Tuesday.
Chappell said there is not enough staffing for the city to enforce its own guidelines, which demand that employees wash their hands, sanitize work stations and avoid work if sick. He added that within a week he expected suppliers to run out of hand sanitizer, paper towels, etc.
"Nobody will be operating safely in a week, Chappell said.
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The Frieds, whose Eldorado Cafe has been one of the biggest hits to open in Austin over the past several years, say they’d been "blown away by the community support" and that takeout had gone very well. Nevertheless, they decided that was not enough. The couple, who had already gone to great lengths operationally to protect staff and the public, closed for at least two weeks after service Saturday. They said they will take the time off to upgrade and update their safety practices and also work on a new menu that reflects the new service reality.
"We are very concerned about the welfare of our staff and we think this is the right call. We want to be proactive on this and be part of the solution," Joel Fried told the Statesman.
The restaurant sent out an email that stated, in part: "We feel that we are sprinting into a marathon and need some time to fully assess this situation."
It ended on a message of community: "To our Fellow Restaurants and Bars in Austin, we are so honored to be a part of this community. We have never heard the phrase ‘we are all in this together’ so many times as we have the past two weeks. We have been so impressed with the unity, the generosity, and the helpfulness on display between hundreds of local bars and restaurants. Let’s keep working together as we find a way out of this crisis."
Complete coronavirus coverage on Statesman.com/coronavirus.
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