Photo courtesy of Foreign & Domestic

Texas restaurants reopening: Austin independent shares coronavirus struggles

‘It’s been bumpy’
Coronavirus Diary: What it's like reopening a restaurant in a pandemic
The owners of Foreign & Domestic in Austin, Texas reflect on the challenges of reopening after the coronavirus shut down.
Photo courtesy of Foreign & Domestic

Limited capacity, masks, sanitization and tracking every guest are just a few of the things the staff at Foreign & Domestic in Austin, Texas, thinks about every day in addition to the food and drinks it’s serving.

Texas began its restaurant reopening phases May 1. Nathan Lemley and Sarah Heard, owners of Foreign & Domestic, decided to reopen their farm-to-table restaurant in mid-June after a lot of deliberation — and hesitation.

“The threat seemed a little bit less, also to-go sales dropped off and rent was still due.” Heard said in a video diary shot for The Daily Meal.

And guidelines and recommendations to consider from both the state of Texas and the city of Austin have complicated the process. “The guidelines are all different depending on who you’re listening to,” Heard said.

Photo courtesy of Foreign & Domestic


So how do the operators of a 1,300-square-foot restaurant navigate reopening? They improvise, do their best and sanitize everything.

Foreign & Domestic’s protocol is similar to that of many other restaurants reopening across the country. Employees wear masks at all times, servers wash their hands constantly, tables are spaced 6 feet apart and are no longer pre-set, diners wear masks when not seated and every guest’s name and contact information is kept on file. These are just a few of the many ways coronavirus has changed dining.

Photo courtesy of Foreign & Domestic

Capacity doesn't exceed 50% in the dining room at Foreign & Domestic


It’s a lot of work, but longtime line cook Bianca Fraser told The Daily Meal that everything is worth it when she gets to chat with regulars and see them enjoying her food again.

“That filled me with such love,” Fraser said. “I got to see regulars that I didn't realize how much I missed until I saw them walk through those doors, even with a mask on.”

According to Heard and Lemley, staffing has been the biggest struggle throughout their reopening. Staff members have cited COVID-19 fears and lower income with half capacity as a few of the reasons they are wary of returning to work just yet.


And it will be a long road ahead as an influx of new coronavirus cases in Texas may change things again — Governor Greg Abbott closed bars for a second time and ordered restaurants to not exceed 50% capacity as a result of the latest spike. Watch the above video to learn more about the reopening of an independent restaurant during the pandemic, and click here to learn about diners’ biggest concerns as they return to restaurants.