On Monday, April 27, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that certain businesses, including restaurants, may reopen beginning on Friday, May 1. Capacity is limited (dining rooms may only operate at 25 percent), and restaurants must adhere to certain sanitation procedures.
Abbott's decision was quickly applauded by President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Tuesday, April 28, that the governor was doing "a great job." Tuesday was also the day the U.S. surpassed 1 million COVID-19 cases — almost one-third of the number of confirmed cases in the entire world.
The governor's decision is an unenviable one. On one hand, he leads a state whose unofficial motto is "wide open for business," but on the other, the novel coronavirus has already infected 25,000 Texans and killed 663. And if this first phase ends with a spike in COVID-19 cases, Abbott says he will reconsider the order.
Despite relying heavily on the decisions of small, local government to navigate this crisis, Abbott noted in an interview with KVUE on Tuesday that his executive order supersedes any municipal decisions to keep restaurants, movie theaters, etc. closed, leaving the decision to business owners whether to open.
Like all media outlets, CultureMap Austin is driven by news. We may have our lens trained on restaurants and bars, entertainment, and related city issues, but the governor's announcement certainly falls into this jurisdiction. And so, we set out to research the restaurants planning to reopen on May 1.
We asked restaurant owners, posted on social media, and combed our emails to compile the list. What we found is that Austin's locally owned restaurants have largely decided against reopening, which means our story would largely consist of mega-chains or restaurant groups based in other cities. And that's not our style.
"We want to work, we want to go back to normal, but the health of our staff and our customers is more important than the economy," said Andy Sabola, owner of Gelateria Gemelli, echoing many of the responses we received. "We are citizens before we are consumers, and we have to take care of each other even if it hurts our little shop in the short run."
(For those local restaurants who are reopening, the Austin American-Statesman has a thoughtful, comprehensive article here.)
We have spent the past six weeks reporting on the COVID-19 crisis in Austin, sitting in on Zoom press conferences, analyzing data, listening to politicians, talking to Austinites, and the one thing we — I — have learned is there are no experts, just people trying their best.
For now, we believe this is the best decision we can make. We will continue to keep our readers updated on city news while highlighting the best local things to do from home, the best to-go options in your neighborhood, and maybe even throw in a few beautiful houses to distract you from the current pandemic.