Survival Mode: Restaurants respond as COVID-19 rewrites business as usual

Joe T’s

World-famous Joe T. Garcia’s has closed the massive dining area but are doing plenty of to-go and delivery business.

Restaurants and bars are adjusting to the new normal.

The March 18 announcement by Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Arlington Mayor Jeff William upended restaurant and bar operations with tighter restrictions that allow curbside and drive-thru service only to help reduce the impact of coronavirus.

For some restaurants, it has meant regrouping while others have laid off many, if not all, hourly workers. Many have already closed their doors

“On behalf of the independent restaurants in the Fort Worth area, we all agree that as hard as it has been for all of us to close our businesses, this has been the right decision,” said Jon Bonnell of Bonnell’s Restaurant Group.

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“I’ve been in communication with about 120 of the local restaurants and roughly 50% have closed already, “ Bonnell said. Those remaining “are trying to turn to some model of curbside or delivery options.”

“The word disaster doesn’t even describe it,” said Fort Worth restaurateur Tim Love, who owns 14 restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and other locations. “If this goes on six weeks more weeks, most independently owned restaurants, and other small businesses for that matter, could be bankrupted.”

But instead of bemoaning the financial hit his business will take, Love made the decision to turn lemons into lemonade.

“Being nice to others and helping others is the right thing to do,” Love said. “I’m losing a ton of money but I want to help the community.”

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Love shut down all his restaurants, including newly opened restaurants in Houston, and has launched Bring Love Home heat and serve family meals out of his Fort Worth catering location at 713 N. Main St.

Closing his restaurants meant laying off all 382 hourly employees, who he eventually intends to bring back after the COVID-19 threat passes. The move allows his employees to collect unemployment benefits, or take temporary jobs in other industries.

He and his 46 management team members will be preparing the meals for the new heat and serve operation.

For $150, Bring Home Love customers will receive 16 individual meals – or four per person for a family of four – that can be heated at home. Each customer may choose four selections from a menu of eight available options such as roasted beef tenderloin, roasted vegetable fajitas, baked ziti and lemon chicken.

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Money raised through Bring Home Love will be put into providing free meals to “anyone who needs a meal” beginning March 23.

Fort Worth-based food and alcohol distributor Ben E. Keith is a partnering with Love on the community meal endeavor.

“Lunch and dinner will be available for whoever needs it,” Love said. “We will find a way to provide for provide for everyone.”

The meals also will be provided from the catering site.

Meanwhile, Fort Worth’s iconic Joe T. Garcia’s is shifting into delivery mode with its own service utilizing wait-staff as delivery drivers.

The restaurant was quick to begin offering curbside service for those who call ahead or just show up.

“We are very thankful that our regular customers are sympathetic and are continuing to support us,” said Elliott Lancarte, director of marketing and communication as well as a member of the ownership family. “It really helps that we are able to deliver alcohol as well as food.”

Gov. Greg Abbott waived restrictions on delivery of alcoholic beverages with food purchases to help struggling restaurants remain in business.

“I can really see this working for our business,” Lancarte said. “I’m not normally an optimistic person but I am optimistic about this.”

Popular barbecue spot Heim Barbecue is hoping to avoid layoffs with an innovative idea. In addition to takeout orders, Heim is selling restaurant logo T-shirts to help support staffers.

“The staff is thrilled about that,” said co-owner Emma Heim. “Customers have been really supportive.

“Everyone’s tipping well, and lots of people are buying gift cards, catering, etc.,” she said.

Visit Fort Worth is tracking all Fort Worth restaurants that currently offer curbside and delivery services.

The exhaustive list can be found here: