The line of barbecue-craving foodies outside Franklin Barbecue in East Austin was robust Friday morning. As temperatures sat in the lower 70s, out-of-towners found themselves at the front of the line — the first had claimed his spot at 5:45 a.m.
They came to visit the city at a time Austin is adjusting for the coronavirus pandemic. In just a week’s time, concern over spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has resulted in the cancellation of a growing list of events, including South by Southwest Conference and Festivals, which was supposed to start March 13.
Patrons in Franklin’s line were just as clustered among strangers as usual while waiting for the renowned barbecue joint, which has had to officially ban professional line waiters, to open at 11 a.m. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping a "social distance" of up to 6 feet from others to prevent possible transmission of the new coronavirus.
Chris Sanchez and Kimberly Quan of El Paso got in line around 6 a.m. Sanchez originally was contracted to work as a projectionist for SXSW during the festival, and Quan booked a flight to hang out for the weekend.
"I’m pretty bummed about it, because I’ve never been to SXSW," Sanchez said. "I understand the reason. It’s just unfortunate."
The couple wasn’t too concerned about COVID-19.
"We’re taking the right precautions, but we’re not doing anything overly excessive," Quan said. "We’re keeping our hands clean, sanitizing things. That’s pretty much it."
Ben and Charlotte Stubbs traveled all the way from Norfolk, England, to see Chris Stapleton perform at the Frank Erwin Center in celebration of Ben’s 30th birthday. The barbecue at Franklin was some consolation after all shows at the Erwin Center were postponed due to concern over coronavirus.
"It’s not been a great week," Charlotte Stubbs said.
The couple co-own a food trailer, Two Hounds Pizza, which operates out of a converted rice horse box in Norfolk. Ben also is a chef at a restaurant called Wiveton Bell. Their Austin holiday has turned into more of a research trip.
"We went to go to (Barton Springs), but then that was shut for cleaning, so we couldn’t go there," Charlotte Stubbs said. They’ve just been eating, she said — "Terry Blacks, just checking out local bars and stuff like that."
They had been planning to stay for a full week, but they had changed their flights to leave later in the day due to growing concerns about the coronavirus.
"When you put the news on, it seems quite bad, and at home they’re saying it’s getting worse, and it’s going to get worse over the next couple weeks," Charlotte Stubbs said. "We just couldn’t risk getting stuck here because we both have businesses at home."
Both couples planned to share their food and said the threat of the coronavirus, the first Austin cases of which were announced Friday, would not affect their enjoyment of their meal.
"Everyone washes their hands," Charlotte said. "You’ve got to hope everyone’s sensible."