Restaurants

Ben Berg Vows to Take Houston Restaurant Reopenings Slowly — “Nobody Wants to Dine in a Hospital”

This Restaurant Tycoon Does Not See the Sense in Rushing Back

BY // 04.30.20

While scores of Houston area restaurants are reopening their dining rooms on Friday with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s blessings, not everyone is ready to jump into the coronavirus pandemic world of 25 percent occupancy — for a number of reasons.

As Underbelly Hospitality empresario Chris Shepherd noted in an email blast: “We want to take our time to understand exactly what we need to do to ensure the safety of our team and our guests.”

Berg Hospitality Group is taking a similar stance.

“Nobody wants to dine in a hospital,” Berg Hospitality head honcho Benjamin Berg tells PaperCity. Contrary to groupthink, this restaurant maestro plans to slowly reopen the restaurants in his stable of popular eateries one at a time. And, he has a well-considered reason.

“I don’t think the public is ready completely, and I’m not sure you want to dine in a hospital,” Berg says. “Seriously. I don’t want to go out right now and have a masked person serve me and have sanitizer all over, even though it’s my business and my livelihood. You’ve go to take it easy with these openings.”

We visited on the second floor of B&B Butchers, which had been experimentally set in the 25 percent spacing mandate. Berg pointed out that a 25 percent occupancy is not financially viable, and at that percentage, diners cannot have the experience they are expecting in restaurant dining.

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“Going out is ambience. It’s the environment. It’s the energy,” Berg says. “Twenty  five percent does not create the energy.”

So when Berg’s high-end restaurants open, all Texas guidelines (three pages worth) will be followed and more. But there will not be plastic glasses or plastic silverware. Berg plans, at the moment, not to reopen The Annie Cafe and Bar and B&B Butchers dining rooms until May 18, when all state restrictions on restaurants are lifted. Berg hopes to operate with 50 percent capacity then, with appropriate spacing in place. B.B. Lemon will also reopen, but that date is not yet set.

Turner’s at The Annie
The cozy dining area at Turner’s pre coronavirus . (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)

When Berg’s Turner’s supper club opens on May 7, every precaution will be taken. Berg says that tables will be four-tops only, and every other one will remain empty. There will be a doorman, an attendant in the restrooms, and, yes, a piano player. But no valet parking.

“Because we were shut down so abruptly, let’s take it easy opening up,” Berg says. “I do believe that if this goes bad, there are no second chances. It’s going to be really bad. It’s going to be a really tough three months.

“So, let’s be prepared for the next three months. Let’s let the people get more comfortable with coming out.”

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