Negotiating with landlords, emptying bank accounts, paying for employees’ health insurance, suffering lost income from closed dining rooms, responding to various state and local orders, pivoting to takeout and other revenue streams: Restaurant chefs and owners have faced the toughest year of their careers.
We asked 10 chefs and owners of Austin restaurants how they’ve navigated the pandemic, whether they’ve been able to find any silver linings and what they see for the future of the industry. Interviews were conducted by email and on the phone. Some answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Veracruz All Natural owners Maritza and Reyna Vazquez
Sisters Maritza and Reyna Vazquez have operated one of Austin’s most popular taco empires for a decade. The pandemic has seen them make some planned changes (moving one food truck, closing their North Austin taqueria) and led them to temporarily close a location after a positive COVID-19 test from a staff member. All five of their locations are currently operating as takeout only.
American-Statesman: What has been your lowest point or most challenging moment of the pandemic, or what has disappointed you the most?
Maritza and Reyna Vazquez: Impact of employees without jobs, stress of not knowing how long to close or how to open again.
What gave you the most hope or inspiration during the last six months?
How we were all open to adapt and be flexible, and bounce back amongst this stress,
What act of community, camaraderie or support touched you the most?
Customers support and positive feedback and reaction, along with staff, after having employees with COVID and closing a location.
What are some positive systemic changes you could see being born from the pandemic’s effect on the hospitality industry?
Online ordering, health protocols and education. Natural green, and outdoor space investment.
Are you hopeful for the future of restaurants and why?
Yes. People miss eating outside. They do what it takes for a good meal. Maybe more precaution. The reality of each restaurant is different and it's hard to see some who can't make it.