San Antonio Bar Industry Pros Say They Wouldn’t Open Friday, Even If Gov. Abbott’s Order Allowed It

Jeph Duarte San Antonio News

click to enlarge Squeezebox's Aaron Peña will wait until local officials and medical professionals give the go-ahead to reopen. - COURTESY PHOTO / SQUEEZEBOX

  • Courtesy Photo / Squeezebox
  • Squeezebox’s Aaron Peña will wait until local officials and medical professionals give the go-ahead to reopen.

Bar industry professionals were unusually quiet on social media after Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas retailers, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can open May 1, so long as they operate at 25% or less capacity.

A second round of openings, which would include bars, beauty salons and gyms would be coming in May, the governor also said.

However, given time to review and consider those limitations, owners of several San Antonio bars said that even if they could open Friday, they wouldn’t.

“The first thing I did [after Abbott’s press conference] was reach out to friends in the industry to see what they were thinking. Nobody is happy about the prospect of reopening at 25% capacity,” said Aaron Peña, owner of Squeezebox on the St. Mary’s Strip. “I knew [bars] weren’t going to be in phase 1, but even if we were, it doesn’t feel right. I’m happy to wait for a scientist to tell us it’s safe to re-open.”

After a half-dozen interviews of industry professionals, from bar owners to line-level employees, a pattern emerged: most feel the state is attempting to offset the number of industry professionals receiving unemployment wages by allowing restaurants to open Friday.

“It almost feels like a plot to get us off of unemployment,” Peña lamented. “If you’re unable to operate, you can’t pay your rent. If you can operate, your landlord can screw you.”

Jeret Peña, owner of the Boulevardier Group — which includes past boozeries The Brooklynite, The Last Word and recently shuttered Still Golden Social House — agrees.

“We’re actually really fortunate because Still Golden was going to close anyway. My heart goes out to the people stuck in leases. There are going to be some landlords out there who suck,” he said.

click to enlarge Still Golden closed last month, just before the bottom fell out of SA's bar and restaurant industry. - INSTAGRAM / THEWANDERINGBEARDED

  • Instagram / thewanderingbearded
  • Still Golden closed last month, just before the bottom fell out of SA’s bar and restaurant industry.

“This plan makes absolutely no sense,” he continued. “I don’t know how people are going to survive if they don’t completely change the way they do business. In my opinion, all restaurants and bars should not open until the cap is 50% capacity.”

Haleigh Guillory, bar instructor at the Culinary Institute of America campus at The Pearl, expressed concerns about the protection of food service industry staff as the expiration of the stay-at-home order looms.

“Reopening a bar or restaurant anytime in the next two months is going to require a level of cleaning and sanitation that will have to be maintained more intensely than anything we’re used to. Expecting the employees to keep up with that for the same or less money, especially if you’re not offering insurance … it’s insane.”

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