Devastated Houston Restaurateurs Plead for Help in Open Letter to City Leaders — Chilling Effects of Shutdowns and Restrictions Already Being Felt

Fighting for the City's Restaurant Future

BY // 03.18.20

“I am literally looking at our entire industry on the brink of devastation.” So writes Abbie Byrom of Truth BBQ, who on Tuesday night, the first day of the city-imposed closure of restaurants and bars, felt compelled to reach out to Mayor Sylvester Turner with a special plea for aid to Houston’s hospitality industry.

On Monday, Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo ordered the closure of all restaurant dining rooms and the complete shutdown of bars and clubs sending these entities into a tailspin. While efforts are being made by restaurants to do curbside, takeout service and home delivery, the blow is calamitous.

“I decided last night to gather every chef and owner we knew in the city, and try to take action together with one voice,” barbecue chef Leonard Botello‘s financé tells PaperCity. “No one will fight for us. We have to fight for ourselves.”

Her letter, shown in full below, was sent to “all our friends in the industry,” and as of Wednesday afternoon,  all among the 160 contacted signed the appeal for tax relief, rent relief, paid sick leave and more.

“None of our owners, chefs or operators have the time to fight a political battle on top of going through massive layoffs, furloughs, loss of income and business and a crisis so great that most restaurants will close,” she tells PaperCity, “and those that don’t will be bankrupt the rest of their lives because we tried to hold on . . . We need help so that we are here when this is over. ”

“Mayor Turner,

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For decades, Houston has been a culinary beacon in Texas and the US. We are home to those who are currently heralded as the nation’s greats, a plethora of James Beard finalists, semifinalists and much respected JBF winners. We tout one of the best Asian culinary epicenters in the U.S. in Chinatown and Bellaire. We are trendsetters, innovators, mentors and boundary pushers. And we take care of Houston, no matter what.

Houston is home to more than 10,000 restaurants, a significant portion of our local economy. Without us, it grinds to a halt. Houstonians eat out more than any other city in the nation, including New York City, according to a recent Zagat survey. 

We give back to our community. Our elders, our veterans, our neighbors, our children, and our employees. We take care of our own, in the words of one of our fearless leaders. 

When the world got sick, we got busy. We raised our already rigorous and thorough cleaning and sanitation standards. We upended our operations to make them safer, and more comfortable in service of our guests. We adapted new business models and service modalities. We banded together to support our community and our country and the world in this humanitarian fight. 

But now, Mayor Turner, it’s your turn. It’s time for your City Council, and our State Legislature to come together and get busy for the restaurant and hospitality community. We feed Houstonians during hurricanes, water main breaks, World Series, and so much more. We step up in a time of need and crisis, as we are doing now, and we need our local government to do the same.

Mayor Turner, your city’s restaurants need immediate relief. It’s time for the City of Houston, and the Mayor’s office to support Houston restaurants and bars.

Here are a few ways you can help us:

  • Negotiating delayed or deferred sales tax payments on the state level
  • Mandate for landlords to charge rent at cost, a 30 day relief, or renegotiate leases to scale back to market rate in 90 days
  • Offer paid sick leave for our employees 
  • Use emergency funds to allow restaurants to file ‘interruption of business’ claims to cover 30 days of labor or rent costs; something insurance companies are denying during this crisis
  • Allow restaurant owners, who cannot file for unemployment at this time, to file for economic assistance due to furlough, closure, or loss of business greater than 50 percent 

Our request is simple. Help us keep our restaurants open under these new rules during social distancing, and as always, we will give back in spades when the world turns right again. 

In service to Houston, and restaurants everywhere.”

The letter was signed by high-profile and small time Houston restaurant operators including Truth BBQ owner and Byrom’s fiancé Leonard Botello, Fluff Bake Bar’s Rebecca Masson, Underbelly Hospitality’s Chris Shepherd, Sticky’s Chickens’ Patsy and Benson Vivares, Riel’s Ryan Lachaine, Bernie’s Burger Bus’s Justin Turner, Theodore Rex’s Justin Yu, Diced Poke’s Jerry Jan, Kolache Shoppe’s Lucy and Randy Hines, and so many more.

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