Launderette, Fresa's no longer requiring proof of COVID vaccination after TABC threatens permit removal
Update: Two days after announcing a new policy that required indoor diners to provide proof of at least one round of COVID-19 vaccination, sister restaurants Launderette and Fresa’s changed their policy after receiving a phone call and letter from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission alerting them that they were in violation of Section 14 of Senate Bill 968.
“Yesterday we received a courtesy call from the TABC saying that we must immediately act in compliance with the law and that if we did not, a case would be opened and we would be at threat of losing our state licenses,” Launderette owners told the Statesman on Thursday.
"In order to stay in compliance we will no longer be asking for proof of vaccination to eat in our dining room, but we will require masks indoors when not seated."
The bill passed this summer prohibits businesses from requiring customers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. TABC posted Wednesday on its website that the state agency may require compliance with this law as a condition of holding a license, permit, certificate, or other authorization.
TABC told Launderette in the letter that the agency had received complaints about the restaurant’s new policy.
Earlier (Tuesday): The owners of Launderette and Fresa's announced Monday night on social media that they are requiring anyone dining indoors at their restaurants to provide proof of at least a first round of vaccinations against COVID-19.
The posts on the Instagram accounts of the two restaurants, which share ownership groups, stated that indoor diners would have to wear masks when not seated at a table, and added that outdoor diners did not need proof of vaccine nor did they have to wear masks.
“Austin is at Stage 5 and it just feels right for the safety of our employees and guests to do this," ownership told the American-Statesman Tuesday via text. Ownership said they plan to keep the protocol in place at least while Austin remains in Stage 5.
The restaurants are requiring indoor diners to show a vaccination card, or photo of one, with an accompanying photo ID. Diners sitting outside will be allowed to come inside to use the restrooms if masked, without showing proof of vaccination, according to owners.
Children ages 11 and younger, a group not yet eligible for a vaccine, will be required to eat outside with their families.
The restaurants do not require their staff to be fully vaccinated, according to ownership, but do require any staffer not vaccinated to produce weekly proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Employees are required to wear masks.
The policy appears to be the first of its kind from a restaurant in Austin, and comes in the wake of several musicians, such as Jason Isbell, requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests as a prerequisite for attendance to their concerts in Austin. Restaurants in Los Angeles and New York have started requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests for indoor dining.
The comments section on each of the restaurant's Instagram posts filled with more than 600 responses. Many commenters seemed to be in support of the restaurants' decision, while others said that they would no longer patronize the restaurant and that the private businesses had overstepped their rights.
Austin mayor asks business owners to require employee vaccinations amid rise in COVID hospitalizations
Austin Public Health last week released Stage 5 guidelines. Those guidelines recommend the following: those vaccinated and not at high risk should use precautions such as masking and social distancing when dining; those vaccinated and at high risk of severe symptoms dine only outdoors; and those unvaccinated or partly vaccinated stay home, avoid all travel and gatherings, and use curbside and delivery options to avoid going out in public.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler late last month released a statement that included a plea to business owners to require their employees to get vaccinated. The mayor at that time also called on City Manager Spencer Cronk to require all City of Austin employees to get vaccinated, but a city spokesperson said that Cronk could "only recommend vaccinations for city employees — because making it a requirement would run afoul of an existing statewide order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott," according to reporting from the Statesman's Ryan Autullo.
Adler told the American-Statesman Tuesday night that he was "excited to hear" about the new policies institutes by Launderette and Fresa's.
"I’m really appreciative of the businesses in this community that are helping to protect their employees and customers and provide incentives for people in the community to get vaccinated," Adler said. "I hope that consumers reward them and support them by choosing to go to restaurants that adopt vaccination requirements."
Adler said that he wished that the state would give cities the to require masking and vaccinations.
"I think if we did those two things, we’d be able to keep the economy open and vibrant. I think that would be something that our community would be willing and overwhelmingly supportive of. I also think it’s the best way to ensure that businesses can stay open," Adler said.
On Monday, Texas was quickly approaching the 10,000 mark for the number of COVID-19 cases in hospitals statewide, according to state health data, and the rolling seven-day average of new daily hospital admissions in Travis County was returning to record-high levels.
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Monday reported 2,151 new COVID-19 cases; 8 new deaths from COVID-19.and 9,462 in hospitals for COVID-19 statewide, up from 6,594 on Aug. 1.
"Texans can help bolster our efforts by getting vaccinated against COVID-19," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement Monday. "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best defense against this virus."
Travis County has administered more than 1,440,908 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, as of Aug. 3, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, which translates to 58% of people living in Travis County being fully vaccinated.