Gloria Salinas, Managing Director, Economic Development

On May 1, some North Texas restaurants will work to reopen full-service dining rooms at 25 percent capacity after being ordered to close for six weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Guests should expect a much different dining experience than they remember pre-pandemic.

“Nothing will be perfect, and it’s not going to look like your favorite restaurant did before COVID-19. But if we can be supportive as we place health and safety as our top priority, and community as a close second, I think it will be great,” said Robert Hall, CEO of Refined Hospitality Concepts, a full-service hospitality management company that spearheads all restaurant and bar concepts at The Statler in Downtown Dallas, as well as Primo’s MX Kitchen & Lounge in Uptown, and Nosh Bistro near Park Cities.

The restaurant industry is among the sectors hit hardest as a result of the government-mandated closing of dining rooms to control the outbreak. The National Restaurant Association estimates 4 out of 10 restaurants have closed, creating more than $80 billion lost in sales for the industry at the end of April. Across the nation, more than eight million restaurant and foodservice employees have been furloughed or left unemployed. There are currently 700,000 people left unemployed in the Texas restaurant industry.

“We’ve felt every emotion during this time, from shock and concern to enthusiasm today as we get ready to revamp and relaunch our concepts and soft-launch new concepts,” Hall said.

On May 1, Refined Hospitality Concepts will join other Dallas Region restaurants in a soft reopening of dining rooms for guests with new health and safety protocols that include servers wearing masks and gloves, hand-washing stations and temperature checks for guests, and more widespread dining space at The Statler.

The company’s concepts — Primo’s Uptown, Nosh Bistro, The Statler’s Overeasy, and Scout Dallas — will now offer reservations for dining on Resy.com, in addition to walk-up seating if room is available at the 25 percent capacity limit. On May 1, the company will also soft launch Primo’s Downtown, The Statler’s newest concept, with a pop-up space featuring culinary offerings at the rooftop bar Waterproof. Refined has also kept plans to move forward with another concept — Sfereco at The Statler.

“For a lot of operators, opening at 25 percent capacity isn’t possible. But, having an affiliated company that is the landlord with partners of the hotel allows us to dip our toe in the water,” Hall said. “If we weren’t a diversified company, it would be hard, but we are in a unique position to offer service.”

Hall said the reopening is not a revenue play for the company, and it will not be profitable during the first phase of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen the Texas economy – its more about the community and its employees.

“We believe we can do this safely, and that it’s good for the hope, energy, and mental health of the community and our employees,” Hall said. “We need to see if we can get life back on track. There are so many things that need to be worked out. If we just keep thinking of ways to regulate, we won’t get out and try to assess the problems.”

Future of Food

In 2019, Dallas received Bon Appetit Magazine’s ‘Restaurant City of the Year’ accolade, which highlighted about two dozen restaurants and bars across the city.

Leslie Brenner, restaurant consultant and former food critic for The Dallas Morning News, said the recognition was important for Dallas because it kickstarted national attention on the chef-driven culture that had been years in the making with pioneers such as Tristan Simon and Nick Badovinus, whose concepts drove redevelopment of neighborhoods like Knox Henderson, the Design District, and East Quarter.

“What Dallas’ future food scene looks like after this depends on what restaurants are left,” Brenner said. “A lot of our top chefs that really created these chef-driven concepts that revived neighborhoods and developments have been laid off.”

Brenner, who worked with Trademark Properties to curate a collection of new restaurant concepts at Victory Park, including Billy Can Can’s, said restaurants that managed to stay open for to-go orders will be well-prepped to reopen.

“It takes about $100,000 just to start to think about reopening a restaurant,” she said.

The industry’s shortage of access to startup capital, which includes inventory, payroll, cash flow, and other expenses to get the doors back open, will make for a slow comeback.

“If the restaurant industry is going to survive and stay healthy, they will need to partner with the government,” Brenner said. “It behooves the city and the whole community to help the restaurant industry refresh and evolve.”

The National Restaurant Association has presented a Blueprint for Recovery, which outlines a federal stimulus proposal of $240 billion to assist restaurants with startup capital among other relief items.

“The restaurant industry is famous for 12 to 18 percent margins with our gains coming in the fourth quarter because summer is typically our slower time,” Hall said. “So, missing a whole quarter of income is tough, and I think the government should be open and available for more support.”

While the pandemic’s government mandates and shelter-in-place orders have been difficult for the industry, both Hall and Brenner agree positive changes are to come from the disruption, include a better match for skilled kitchen and front-of-house staff for restaurants reopening.

“Before the pandemic, there was a severe shortage of labor and skills, and the consequence will create a natural evolutionary straightening out of the industry,” Brenner said. “I have a feeling that there will be a better match for skilled kitchen staff for restaurants reopening.”

Another pre-pandemic statistic showed a growing number of millennials cooking at home, Brenner said. Both cooking-at-home and grab-and-go have soared during shelter-in-place, and Brenner sees those trends continuing; requiring restaurants to adapt to a model that balances tech and hospitality.

“One of the things people really crave is human interaction and hospitality. Being greeted at a desk by someone who knows your name, having your favorite table and being out in a scene are important,” Brenner said. “The future of dining will require a lot more chef-driven neighborhood concepts that are interesting; people will want to eat something that they couldn’t cook at home themselves.”

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