Coronavirus News

During coronavirus, some Dallas restaurants gotta win, some gotta lose

During coronavirus, some Dallas restaurants gotta win, some gotta lose

The Lot restaurant in East Dallas
There was a lot of fun to be had at The Lot. The Lot Dallas/Facebook

With the coronavirus stretching from days into weeks, Dallas restaurants are adjusting to the new abnormal. Not all are equipped to do takeout, and many restaurateurs have done a reset — some temporarily, others for good.

One of Dallas' most high-profile chefs, Nick Badovinus, pulled the plug on his entire menagerie: Neighborhood Services, Montlake Cut, Town Hearth, even his hot new restaurant on Greenville Avenue, Desert Racer.

"We are not offering to-go at this time but are instead focusing 100% on opening as soon as possible!" he wrote on his restaurants' websites on April 9. "We will continue to keep you updated as we learn more and appreciate you checking in with us."

But pizzerias are holding on (and some even opening mid-COVID-19), and national chains who've always had drive-thru are at an advantage. Diners would seemingly rather wait in a one-hour line at Chick-fil-A on a Saturday afternoon than get to-go from a non-chain.

Restaurants with drive-up are killing it, from Keller's Drive-In to Dairy-Ette to the Sonic chain; both Keller's and Dairy-Ette report an increase in business since the shelter-in-place took effect.

Chef Tim Love predicted that COVID-19 could close half of the restaurants around Dallas-Fort Worth for good, and Dallas bar owner Jason Caswell (Chugging Monk) suggests that's an optimistic estimate.

"If you're talking about small independently owned bars and restaurants, I think if the closure goes past May, it'll be more like 70 percent," Caswell says. "Nobody has money to back up for two months. Bars don't operate like that — they don't have months' worth of operating capital sitting in a bank. Most go month to month."

There are restaurants like Khao Noodle Shop who initially tried takeout but stopped; and some restaurants who initially closed temporarily, but will call it quits.

John McBride kept his Lake Highlands Tex-Mex restaurant El Vecino open, but shuttered his family-friendly East Dallas hangout The Lot for good.

"With The Lot, we lived and died by the weather," he says. "We were counting on a great spring, and spring is by far your best season. When you take that away, I couldn't fathom trying to bring it back. You're starting from so far behind and you can't catch up."

But he has observed some factors that he thinks help one's survival.

"El Vecino is in a neighborhood where people can actually walk to it," he says. "Being a neighborhood place is a plus. And then you need to be a place where takeout makes sense. If you're a middle- to high-end restaurant, it's almost smarter to just shut it down. Those kinds of places are just not geared for that. At El Vecino, we already had a reputation for doing takeout."

One other factor is cuisine: Everyone wants comfort food. Bread is back in favor, whether it's people doing baking experiments at home or descending on bakeries en masse.

"El Vecino is Tex-Mex — Texas' idea of comfort food," he says. "At home, I'm eating Alfonso's pizza. I feel like I need comfort food morning, noon, and night."