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Texas restaurants are just trying make it through this

A group of women have lunch at a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

A group of women have lunch at a restaurant in Austin, Texas, June 26, 2020. Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images

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The dining room at Southern food restaurant Olamaie in Austin has been closed since March. Chef and owner Michael Fojtasek decided in July to focus on buttermilk biscuits and biscuit sandwiches and sell them curbside.

“So it’s about 180 degrees from what we’ve done in the past as a fine dining restaurant,” Fojtasek said. This means a lower overhead, but biscuits don’t bring in as much dough. “Normally, we would be doing north of $300,000 a month in sales. And this month we’ll be lucky to get to $60,000.”

Eleven people work at Olamaie right now down from 30 in March.

Some 200,000 Texans who were working in the industry before the pandemic still aren’t back, according to Emily Williams Knight, president of the Texas Restaurant Association. It’s partly because so many restaurants have closed.

“We’re projecting that through September, we lost about 15% of our 50,000 restaurants,” said Knight. And it’s likely to get worse. “We assumed, falsely now, that we would receive an additional relief package from Congress,” she added.

Which isn’t coming anytime soon. 

Trey Malone, professor of agricultural, food and resource economics at Michigan State University, said a comprehensive federal relief package for restaurants is tough because the industry is so diverse and region-specific.

“The restaurant relief policy in Detroit, Michigan, just is not going to look the same as the restaurant relief package that’s needed in Austin, Texas,” he said.

At Olamaie, Fojtasek said when his dining room opens back up again, he’s convinced the biscuit business can remain open, too.

“That is the silver lining, that here we are with another very valuable concept that we believe has legs and in the long run should be successful,” he said.

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