Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate and allowed all businesses to open to full capacity, effective Wednesday.
A common sentiment among local restaurateurs and small business owners in the hospitality world is that it's too early to ease restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Some area restaurant and bar owners said the governor's order brings concerns for the health of the community as well as potentially having to deal with customers who don’t agree with the businesses that decide to keep their mask and capacity policies.
“I felt Abbott lifted the restrictions too soon,” said John King, owner of Dan Electro’s Bar, 1031 E. 24th St. “For my business I am worried about non-maskers causing problems because we are still enforcing a mask mandate at this establishment for people’s safety.”
That was echoed by Alli Jarrett of Harold’s Restaurant, Bar & Rooftop Terrace, 350 W. 19th St., and Levi Rollins, owner of Urban Eats, 3414 Washington Ave.
Harold’s policy regarding masks stayed the same after Wednesday - guests are required to wear a mask upon arrival, departure and while moving around the restaurant. Jarrett said her business also will continue to limit capacity to 50 percent in order to allow for socially distanced tables.
Urban Eats is operating the same way.
“We appreciated the mask mandate not only for safety, but also because being the mask police is not pleasant for a hospitality-driven business,” Jarrett said. “We’ve been gaining good ground so naturally there is concern that our staff and guests will be at risk since so few have been vaccinated.”
John Holler, owner of Holler Brewing Co., 2206 Edwards St., pointed out that Abbott is not enforcing anything, rather he’s removing mandates that were imposed on businesses.
“For example, Holler Brewing — since it is considered a ‘bar’ and not a ‘restaurant’ — had been forced to remain closed except for to-go sales,” Holler said. “This meant that you could go into a stuffy restaurant bar and get tanked on margs, but you couldn't enjoy a tank-fresh pint of beer on our open-air patio unless you bought it in a plastic cup and pretended to take it ‘to-go.’ "
Effective Wednesday, Holler said he was able to sell “for here” beer in proper glassware. The brewery will continue to keep most of its seating outdoors and spaced out as well as having customers wear a mask while in the tap room.
“This is for the safety and comfort of our staff and customers,” Holler said.
The lifting of the mask mandate and openings to capacity came as a surprise to Randy Hines, owner of Kolache Shoppe at 1031 Heights Blvd.
“We had to scramble to figure out how we were going to respond,” Hines said. “We are in the business of hospitality, and so we strive to be as welcoming as possible while also ensuring safety through things like social distancing and masks.”
Hines also said it's a tight rope for the hospitality industry. He expects there to be some initial confusion among customers due to Abbott’s announcement, since Kolache Shoppe and others plan to continue requiring customers to wear masks and socially distance.
Rollins said he agrees with the idea of it being too early to lift the mandates. He said Urban Eats will continue with its current safety protocols until Houston is at least 50 percent vaccinated and its staff has the ability to get their vaccinations.
“It’s not the time yet,” Rollins said. “We’re less than 10 percent vaccinated.”
Still being careful
Below is a list of local restaurants, breweries and bars that are continuing to require masks and/or limit seating capacities. This list is based on announcements by the businesses and could be incomplete:
A 2nd Cup
Amsterdam Co. Coffee House
Awesome Bites Co.
The Barking Pig
Better Luck Tomorrow
The Burger Joint
Cloud 10 Creamery
Dak & Bop
Dan Electro's Bar
Eight Row Flint
Fluff Bake Bar
Ginger & Fork
Golden Bagels & Coffee
Good Dog Houston
Harold's in the Heights
Holler Brewing Co.
Jenni’s Noodle House
Johnny’s Gold Brick
Maison Pucha Bistro
The Taco Stand
Tea & Victory
Teotihuacan Mexican Café
The Union Kitchen
The Waffle Bus
Walking Stick Brewing Co.