Expanded capacity means more local restaurants will reopen

After restaurants here and around the state were allowed to open at 25% capacity on May 1, some local establishments chose to wait. (Photo by Megan Vanselow)

BELL COUNTY, Texas (KWTX) After restaurants here and around the state were allowed to open at 25% capacity on May 1, some local establishments chose to wait.

But for many of them the waiting is nearly over after Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that restaurants can expand capacity to 50% effective Friday.

Bird Creek Burger Company in Temple installed phone soap boxes to keep payment devices clean even before COVID-19 hit Central Texas, but the restaurant was forced to close for a two-week quarantine after an employee tested positive for the new coronavirus in late March.

The restaurant reopened in April to offer curbside service and beer and wine to go, as well as selling bulk food items, and take-and-bake options as well.

But owner Jacob Bates passed on opening at 25% capacity on May 1.

“Twenty five percent for Bird Creek, that would leave us with not very many people being able to walk in, so from an operations standpoint it becomes a little tough to manage that small of numbers," Bates said.

But now Bates is ready to welcome his customers back, with some changes.

Bird Creek will open Wednesday and Thursday at 25% capacity to give the staff and customers a feel for the new normal, before expanding to 50% Friday.

Bates says the dining room is big enough to allow more than six feet between each table at 50% capacity.

"We have removed everything from the tables except for a small table tent that has a QR code for customers to pull up our menu digitally," Bates said.

"It’s just another way to get around anyone having to touch more than what they need to."

He says one-time use paper menus will also be available for customers.

Curbside and beer or wine to go will still be available once the restaurant opens later in the week.

Millers Smokehouse in Belton held off reopening at 25% as well.

In a Facebook post on April 30, the BBQ joint said it would continue with curbside pickup.

"Twenty five percent capacity would cause additional customer service issues for us, and we feel better about continuing to limit exposure at the moment," the post read.

Dead Fish Grill in Belton closed its doors altogether in March.

Operations manager, Angel Aguilar says so much of what they offer comes with the experience of being at their lakefront restaurant.

"People don't usually think of us first when they're thinking about takeout," Aguilar said.

Dead Fish laid off its staff and used the time to make changes at the restaurant.

"It’s hard to find that silver lining but we saw it as an opportunity for a hard reset. There were a lot of things that that time gave us to work on to be a better establishment," Aguilar said.

They extended the roof on one its patios that was damaged in a storm in 2019, created a new menu, with family style meal options and did other remodeling throughout the building.

When phase one began, those projects were not complete, so the restaurant wanted to learn from watching what other establishments would do.

"We were able to kind of see how that was unraveling for other restaurants and also allows us time to put in proper safety precautions on top of what restaurants already do," Aguilar said.

After hearing word that they could open at 50% this week, Aguilar says the staff started to kick their ongoing projects into gear to start getting ready.

Dead Fish hopes to reopen its doors on June 2 at 50% capacity if that's still the state guideline, but hopes it can do even more by then.

"We got a lot of feedback on social media asking when we're going to be back so that feels good to know people are waiting for us to reopen," Aguilar said.

On May 30, the restaurant will offer its new family style meals for a one-day curbside pickup, where Billy Holt will perform in the parking lot from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.