Local eateries decide not to open dine-in service yet

A server delivers curbside takeout at the Wing Barn on Stuart Place Road in Harlingen. Restaurants such as Wing Barn, Frankie Flav'z and New York Deli have decided not to reopen for dine in service. Curbside takeout and delivery continue to be their options for now. Elsa Cavazos/Valley Morning Star

HARLINGEN — It has been a week since Gov. Greg Abbott decided to loosen restrictions and allow places such as restaurants to open back up for dine in. However, not everyone has decided to go forward with that possibility.

Many locally owned restaurants in Harlingen and Brownsville have decided to continue their curbside and delivery options until the pandemic situation stabilizes more.

Owners are concerned opening up for 25 percent capacity will only have a negative effect on their businesses instead of helping them.

Bobby Saenz, CEO of Wing Barn, is one of the owners who has decided not to open up dine-in service just yet. Wing Barn has locations in Brownsville, Harlingen, Olmito, McAllen and Edinburg but it continues to stick to delivery and curbside.

Saenz said it did not appear to be the best option to go ahead and open up since people are still deciding whether to go out to eat or stay in.

“We felt it was going to be hard to keep the operation going as far as takeout and just having the amount of traffic outside and also focusing on the customers inside,” he said.

“We want to focus on safety for employees as well as for the public and we felt there was still a lot of unanswered questions out there and people skeptical about the situation. I thought why rush it, just because you have the green light to do it does not mean it is going to be the right decision for us,” Saenz said.

As a company Saenz said he wants to wait to reopen until more than 25 percent are allowed to be inside the building.

Saenz said he was hoping to reopen on May 18 but as long as the capability stays at 25 percent he does not consider it beneficial.

“Our occupancy is about 100 and if you think about it, 25 people minus your employees since they count as occupancy, you have 15-20 patrons eating there so we have to adjust our business model,” he said.

“We still want to be profitable but there has to be financial sense to continue to operate,” Saenz said.

Thursdays are usually a busy day at Wing Barn but Saenz said lately it has been one of the slowest days. He considers many people are skeptical of going out as people continue to go out more.

“I think now people going to the Island and those who are cautious are still scared. It was sort of strange to see the sales go down,” he said.

Another business owner decided on waiting as well because of the uncertainty and the safety concerns. Frank Macias, owner of Frankie Flav’z, Frankie Falv’z Craft Burger House and Frankie Flav’z Craft BBQ Co is sticking to curbside and delivery also for the time being.

Macias said he spoke to his staff about reopening and team members agreed it was not the right time yet.

“We were contemplating and it felt it was not the right time. I went ahead and made the decision with the staff, I asked them how they felt about it and my servers were uncomfortable and almost ready to call it quits,” he said.

“They weren’t comfortable to be around customers without the proper protection needed at this time. I am going to wait the following week if there is a threat out there hopefully we can lessen the spread,” Macias said.

For him, the two week mark is the perfect time to get a better idea to reconsider opening dine in. Macias said staff members continue to keep their sanitary manners when delivering and doing curbside. Gloves are used and thrown out every time and staff wears their masks at all times.

“This is I guess what you would call the new normal. For me it was more about my staff feeling in danger,” he said.

John Rendon, manager at New York Deli, said the reasons for not opening up were also around the same concerns Macias and Saenz had.

“We were not sure about the safety of it for our customer’s sake. It just seemed difficult at 25 percent and we don’t know yet this thing hasn’t been cured yet so I think it is safe to stay at curbside, a lot of our customers are Winter Texans and we want to keep them safe,” Rendon said.

So far the pandemic has affected New York Deli in keeping enough staff but Rendon said the loyalty of Harlingen has allowed them to stay afloat.

“A few of our staff went into quarantine and others got their check and just didn’t show up to work. Right now I just have the one waitress I’ve had for the last 20 years, Mary Ann Balboa,” he said.

“I do want to say thanks to people in Harlingen. We’ve had our bad days but our good days as well,” Rendon said.