Winter storm closures deepen financial woes for Austin’s pandemic-battered restaurant scene

Winter Storm Uri resulted in restaurants across Austin closing due to power outages and unsafe road conditions. (Jack Flagler / Community Impact Newspaper)

After weathering pandemic conditions in Austin, which closed dining rooms and generating revenue, Austin restaurants were hit again after winter storm Uri caused power outages on one of the most profitable weekends of the year, spoiling the product and forcing temporary closings.

As of Valentine’s Day weekend, restaurants in northwest Austin reported closings because they had lost power. In some cases, restaurant owners found the road conditions too dangerous to drive for their employees.

Some restaurants, who shared their experiences with the Community Impact Newspaper, said the storm ultimately cost them tens of thousands of dollars in lost business, spoiled product, and repairs.

“It is certainly a challenge to put this ice storm on COVID. We already have problems paying rent and employees, but we can manage. It was the cherry on the cake this year, ”said Mike Roth, owner of the Vietnamese barbecue fusion spot Smokin Beauty in North Austin.

At Smokin Beauty, the storm cost the restaurant four business days after it closed in early February. The restaurant stayed closed that weekend and didn’t reopen until February 19, Roth said. Overall, Roth estimates that Smokin Beauty lost potential sales of around $ 15,000 due to the storm.

According to Arnae Jinnette, catering sales manager for the restaurant group, the local Korean fusion restaurant chain Chi’Lantro lost half of its operating locations to electricity during the winter storm Uri.

At those three locations, Jinnette said the restaurant needs to toss all of its product from the walk-in fridges and stock up completely.

“It wiped out our entire supply. … We had to get all the ingredients to start all of our sauces over, ”said Jinnette.

With restaurants across the state, from Dallas to Houston, also losing product due to prolonged power outages, Jinnette said supply chains were secured, making replenishment difficult. In the end, it took the Chi’Lantro restaurants, which lost power during the storm, about a full week to replenish.

“It was difficult to start three restaurants from scratch [of the storm] for us, ”said Jinnette.

Heartbreak on Valentine’s Day

Restaurateurs told Community Impact Newspaper that this storm may have happened at the worst possible moment as Valentine’s Day is typically one of the most profitable business days for local restaurants.

Winter Storm Uri had a deeply negative impact on restaurants across Texas, according to OpenTable, a service that books and tracks reservations for restaurants across the country.

Data from the company shows that the percentage of table seats in Austin restaurants fell an average of 60% from Feb. 12-14, compared to the same period last year. The rate of vacancies in restaurants in Austin was more than double the nationwide rate of decline from last year, according to OpenTable figures.

Ann Baker, owner of decade-old Andiamo Ristorante Italian restaurant in North Austin, said her establishment had some cancellations for Valentine’s Day weekend. Even though the restaurant was 50% to 75% busy, which was expected for the weekend, Baker noted that Andiamo’s take-out sales boosted the revenue stream.

“We scored a goal but it was a decent amount of revenue for the weekend,” said Baker. “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

Like restaurants all over town, Andiamo lost power for a few days during the winter storm. The restaurant lost four days of operation, resulting in a $ 5,000 loss in revenue, according to Baker estimates.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but [it is] If you’re a small business first, ”said Baker. “I think we’ll survive this, but it’s not a comfortable situation at all.”

The drop in sales on Valentine’s Day, which Baker says is one of her restaurant’s top 3 business days alongside New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day, is compounded by a year of limited business for restaurants across the state.

According to a coronavirus impact report by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the contribution of the lodging and catering industry to the state’s gross domestic product declined 26.8% from Q1 2020 compared to Q1 2020 spending on restaurants and hotels decreased for the week of December 6, 2020 decreased by 11.8% compared to January 2020.

Community effort

Despite the conditions, numerous local restaurants and shops opened to provide emergency services to needy residents across the city.

After the city of Austin issued a boiling water notice for hundreds of thousands of homes across the city, breweries used their in-house equipment to distribute free drinking water.

“While many craft breweries across the state cannot safely reopen until road conditions improve, utilities restored and facility repairs assessed, more and more breweries are opening up to provide their drinking water and a warm place to rest and recharge Neighbors and Community Members, ”said Caroline Wallace, associate director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, in an email to Community Impact Newspaper on February 18.

In the middle of the storm, Chi’Lantro began using the kitchens at its locations, which could still turn on the lights, to distribute meals to the community. On the morning of February 16, the day after Austinites suffered a prolonged power outage, Jinnette said she received a call from the Chi’Lantro leadership team that the restaurant was participating in giveaways for meal times.

“They came together very quickly. We could start serving people that Wednesday or Thursday, ”Jinnette recalled.

Chi’Lantro partnered with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit, and eventually coordinated the distribution of 7,000 free meals in Austin. From February 17 to February 24, Jinnette handed out nearly 12,000 free meals, including donations to local hospitals, according to Chi’Lantro.

Lauren Donoho, creative director of Lianis Creative Co. and public relations representative for Garbo’s, said the North Austin seafood restaurant never lost power during the winter storm. While the restaurant remained closed to the public due to the road conditions, the Garbo’s team began cooking hot meals for local residents who had lost electricity so they could collect them free of charge.

“They had products that they didn’t want to badly and they saw a need. … Local restaurants have increased and that has been pretty amazing, “said Donoho. “The Garbo team is very resilient. Even when it wasn’t safe to drive, they went to the restaurant and were happy to conjure up food. “

Garbo’s has been able to make macaroni and cheese, burgers, and soups for distribution with groups like Whole Foods, Good Work Austin, and the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. In total, according to Donoho, Garbo’s served more than 1,200 free meals to residents in need.

We raised nearly $ 90,000 to help provide hot meals to hospitals, emergency services, warming centers, and the public while supporting our local Austin restaurants. @MayorAdler @VisitAustinTX @austintexasgov @ 365ThingsAustin #TexasPowerOutages #TexasFreeze

– A taste of Koko | Austin Blogger (@atasteofkoko) February 19, 2021
On February 16, the Austin Winter Storm Relief Fund was launched by A Taste of Koko, 365 Things Austin MYLK Collective, and Cara Caulkins Communications to raise funds to support restaurants. The campaign raised funds to buy hot meals in restaurants and distribute them across town. More than $ 157,000 had been raised as of March 2.

According to the GoFundMe page set up for the Relief Fund, the Austin Winter Storm Relief Fund continues to accept donations to go to restaurants in Austin.

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