Businesses across the region are facing another set of hurdles after COVID-19 cases surged in Texas last week and Gov. Greg Abbott halted the reopening of the state’s economy.
But for some new businesses, another set of hurdles is just an opportunity to bake more flexibility into the business plan.
The owners of Taconeta, a new restaurant outside Downtown opening in early July, said their original business plan featured projections that did not factor in reduced capacity. They are now converting their plan to takeout only.
“We always thought it would be a supplement to the business and now it’s been the way we’ll survive, hopefully,” said Daniel Fox, co-owner of Taconeta.
Fox is opening Taconeta with Alejandro Borunda, a partner in the International Bar in Downtown.
Taconeta’s business flexibility is already being tested. On Friday, Abbott announced the closure of all bars across the state and lowering of restaurant capacity to 50%, after an outbreak of new COVID-19 cases in major cities, including El Paso.
On Friday, city officials reported 233 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, the largest single-day spike so far. That brings the total for El Paso County to 5,217 positive cases and 126 deaths. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, with 118 people hospitalized and 58 patients in the intensive care unit.
The continued closures and uncertainty about whether more are on the horizon means Fox and Borunda are hesitant to fill staff spots. The two will be running Taconeta alongside friends and family for now, Fox said.
“If we were to open fully now and hire a bunch of staff, we’d suddenly have staff we’re responsible for, and we invest a lot of money into training and paying,” Fox said. “From a new-business standpoint, it can be financially devastating to invest in personnel and then have a shutdown where we can’t pay them or they won’t have jobs.”
Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said she’s hearing from member businesses that some are having trouble filling positions because workers are afraid of returning, are making more money on unemployment or are reflecting on what they want to do next.
But Ramos-Davidson said that could change if government-backed subsidies and additional unemployment stipends come to an end, leading to a large rush back into a workforce with limited spots and limited safety nets.
“Our fear is once these subsidies end, what’s going to happen then? There’s going to be an influx of people going back to work,” Ramos-Davidson said.
David Jerome, president and CEO of the El Paso Chamber, said most businesses that have reopened are working hard to keep clean and adhere to social distancing guidelines. But many, he said, are still faced with limited cash supply to keep things going in the face of more closures.
“You’re not just changing the restaurants to make sure people are sitting six feet apart, you’re adapting your business model to say that not only can people come sit safely, but they can also start offering delivery services,” Jerome said.
He added that about a third of their members are vulnerable and have about 27 days of operating cash.
“We’re all trying to work through this together. I think we’re in a great community with folks doing spectacular jobs,” Jerome said. “We have to remain vigilant and learn to coexist with this while opening our businesses.”
Taconeta, at 311 Montana, is in a building that was renovated last year by Root Architects. It shares a wall with Working Capitol, a coworking space that also has a Salt + Honey Express.
Root is also the firm that will be reworking the nearby Wakefield Plaza building on Yandell.
Fox said Taconeta was slated to open much sooner but the opening got pushed back because of the pandemic. Work on the restaurant was impacted in part by construction and inspection delays and then by a shortage of workers.
“It was further complicated by some offices not being open, not being able to get in touch with people. Some subcontractors had sick workers or workers that couldn’t come in. It trickles down,” Fox said.
Fox and Borunda are eyeing a late July opening date for their restaurant, which will feature their take on the unique flavors of border Mexican food. Fox said managing all the changes related to the pandemic and closures has given the business flexibility even before opening day.
“That’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur,” Ramos-Davidson said. “They’re the best candidates to retool and pivot their companies because they are the risk takers.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422.