Juan in a Million was back in business for in-restaurant, or mostly on-patio, dining Friday morning, but it appeared to be Juan of the Few Austin restaurants that took advantage of Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased reopening of the Texas economy beginning Friday.
There was no rush on the popular East Austin institution, where masked servers far outnumbered customers at very well-spaced tables.
Juan in a Million opened at 7 a.m. and when friends Aleza Ruiz and Lexie Belcher arrived at around 9:30 a.m. they were about the seventh party all morning.
"Juan is the best place to be especially for breakfast. I grew up coming here," Ruiz said. "So seeing the same waitresses is comforting. It feels like normal."
She could recognize their masked waitresses from their eyes and their hair buns.
"I know the owner, know his son, they are awesome people. There’s a very homey feeling, very genuine, good, family-owned business," Ruiz said. "I don’t mind giving them my money."
Ruiz and Belcher, both 23, are friends from the Buda H-E-B where they both work. Ruiz is a cross-functional worker — trained in all departments — while Belcher works curbside.
H-E-B has been cited, including by Abbott, as a model of a business that not only has proved essential during the existential threat of the pandemic, but excellent at performing a service without spreading the infection.
"We’re part of the movement, yeah." Ruiz said.
"We feel very appreciated, which is pretty cool," said Ruiz, both by customers and by H-E-B, who gave employees $2 raises and masks.
"They made us feel safe, said Ruiz, who lives in Austin.
The last time she was there was with her family last year after the Ring Ceremony at St. Edward’s, from which she graduated last semester with a degree in social work and psychology."
"I celebrated that here with my family. We had mimosas, naturally," she said.
That was the last time i came here. I didn’t know that March everything was going to hit the fan."
She works half-time for HEB and half-time at the Atlantic Housing Foundation, an affordable housing non-profit.
The last time she ate at Juan’s was after the St. Edward’s University ring ceremony for the December graduating class.
"I celebrated that here with my family. We had mimosas, naturally. That was the last time I came here. I didn’t know that March everything was going to hit the fan."
Belcher, who lives in San Marcos, graduated from Texas State University with a criminal justice degree. She wants to be either an investigator or a police officer.
Abbott ended the monthlong stay-at-home order and starting Friday allowed restaurants and retail stores to the open at 25 percent of capacity. Some Democrats and public health experts have said the move comes too soon and warned that reopening the economy now could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.
Of the timing of the reopening, Ruiz said, "I would not say it’s overdue, I would not say that at all. But I wouldn’t say too soon either. We’re not the right people to ask because we never stayed inside just because we stayed working. Everything else shut down and H-E-B didn’t."
The two friends weren’t wearing masks at breakfast.
Did she expect a bigger crowd?
"I didn’t know what to expect," Ruiz said. "I was just hungry. That’s all I was thinking about and Juan was the first thing that popped into my head for breakfast."
Ramon Moreno, 67, was there out of routine.
"I come every Saturday," he said.
But today is Friday.
"So, I’m a day early," said Moreno with a shrug.
Moreno was there with his girlfriend. They are going to get married. Was he waiting for a post-pandemic time for the wedding? No, he said, just figured it’s best not to rush into something that important.
Moreno and his girlfriend were not wearing masks. He wears one at work at the Home Depot in North Austin, where he lives. It’s a big store with plenty of room to keep your distance. "Fifty thousand square feet," he said.
Moreno said he wasn’t preoccupied with fears of catching the virus, which has proved particularly dangerous to those 65 and older.
"There are only two things that are certain" Moreno said. "Death and taxes."