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As North Texas Restaurants Reopen For Dine-In, Some Say It Doesn't Make Fiscal Sense

Syeda Hasan
Fiction Coffee on North Hall Street has set up a temporary drive-thru to minimize contact with customers.

At Bangkok City Restauranton Bryan Street, owner Janpen Thavoinkaew Canady and her husband, Philip Canady, have rearranged the dining room to seat a maximum of 16 customers. It's a steep drop from the usual crowd at the family-owned Thai restaurant, which has built a loyal customer base after more than 20 years in business.

"They keep us going and call and see how we're doing and try to help," Thavoinkaew Canady said.

Under an executive orderfrom Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, restaurants in Dallas County can resume dine-in service, with some restrictions. They can't exceed 25% capacity. Tables can seat up to six people, and parties have to stay at least six feet apart. In counties with very few COVID-19 cases, capacity can be higher. The first phase of the governor's plan also allows retail stores, movie theaters, malls, libraries and museums to reopen with limited capacity.

Credit Syeda Hasan
At Bangkok City Restaurant on Bryan Street, owner Janpen Thavoinkaew Canady (right) and her husband, Philip Canady (left), have rearranged the dining room to seat a maximum of 16 customers.

Philip Canady said to-go orders have been popular since North Texas adopted shelter-in-place orders, but they only account for about 20% of regular business. Bangkok City has been able to retain its entire staff, though hours have been cut. Canady said resuming dine-in service is crucial to sustaining business, and he looks forward to partially reopening.

"I think that's a very positive sign, and we're optimistic," Canady said.

For others, reopening at 25% capacity just doesn't make fiscal sense. Spencer Fox is the director of coffee at Fiction Coffee on North Hall Street.

"No matter how much we love our customers, you can only spend so much money on a cup of coffee," Fox said, "and if you sit there for a couple hours and limit that, it's not very financially feasible for us."

Fox said the coffee shop has had to make tough decisions since the COVID-19 outbreak began, reducing pay across the board and giving staff the option to go on furlough. Four baristas have taken him up on that, and Fox said they're in regular communication.

"They've been giving us love and we've been giving them love back, just waiting for the time when they'll be able to come back to work," he said.

Fox knows some employees don't feel safe coming to work right now where they'll potentially be in close contact with customers. In Dallas County, community transmission continues to be the leading risk factorfor COVID-19, meaning most people who have tested positive don't know how they got the illness. Federal health officials saylimiting face-to-face contact is the best way to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

For now, Fox and his team have turned the tiny Fiction Coffee parking lot into a makeshift drive-thru. Customers can call ahead before picking up their orders. Fox said they plan to continue using this system, keeping the dine-in area closed until further notice.

"A lot of our regulars that are coming in every day are a lot of the healthcare workers at Baylor [Scott & White Health] right here next to us," Fox said. "They're telling us to be safer than anything. At 50% we can't do it, and even at 75% we probably aren't going to do it."

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.