One Houston restaurateur has decided not to let Harris County’s stay-at-home/work safe order prevent him from operating his business. Matt Brice tells CultureMap that he will reopen the dining room at the Hedwig Village location of Federal Grill for dinner service on Friday, April 24.
“I know some people won’t like it, but on the other side I think it’s time to open this economy back up — carefully, very carefully,” he says.
Brice has developed an extensive series of safety and hygiene protocols designed to keep both his customers and his staff as safe as possible. They include temperature checks for employees at the beginning of every shift, only seating 30-percent of the restaurant’s normal capacity, replacing common-use items like menus and salt shakers with disposable, one-time only products, and regular sanitizing of common touch points like door handles, check presenters, and pens.
In addition, Brice will require all employees to wear masks and gloves, and a bathroom attendant will prevent more than one person at a time to from using the restroom. Chairs and tables will be sanitized after every use. Electronic payment through Venmo or PayPal will also be available.
“I challenge anyone who wants to come in here and tell me we’re not doing a better job than any company out there,” Brice says. “We’re going to do the ultimate job to keep people safe so they can have a dining experience.”
Brice acknowledges that he’ll be defying Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s order that prohibits restaurants from serving people in their dining rooms, but he adds that he’s received permission to proceed from the mayor of Hedwig Village, the tiny city where his restaurant is located. The mayor, as well as officials from other communities in the Memorial villages, are all planning to dine at Federal Grill on Friday night, Brice says.
The restaurateur concedes that Federal Grill has suffered from diminished revenues by only being able to serve to-go and that he has employees who want to work. But he insists reopening isn’t just about making money. He thinks restaurants deserve equal treatment with other businesses.
“I think constitutionally it shouldn’t be the way it is,” he says. “We should be able to open very responsibly. How is it that . . . you can walk into a Walgreens with 30, 40, 50 people in there? Why can they open? Why can’t we? They can either shut everything down or don’t.”
Brice says that he’ll comply if law enforcement tells him he has to close. “I’m not here to break any laws or get arrested,” he says. “I just want to see us move along a little bit faster.”
Apparently, he’s not alone in wanting restaurants to open. Since revealing his plans Wednesday morning on the Michael Berry Show, Brice says he’s been inundated with phone calls and messages from people who want a reservation for Friday night. He emphasizes that people who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 or who don’t feel comfortable should stay home, but he’s predicting a capacity crowd.
“I’m not going to pack the place,” Brice says. “My goal is to do this as safely as possible. I guarantee you we’ll have the full 30 percent.”