If you had asked Stan Penn two weeks ago, he would have told you that The Celt’s future is bleak. Like many bar owners in Texas, Stan had been hit with a triple whammy from COVID-19 and Gov. Greg Abbott: closing in March, opening in May, closing again in late June.
After bar owners protested in Austin, declaring “Bar Lives Matter, too,” the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission finally offered bar owners another lifeline that will allow more bars to reopen if they sell more food than alcohol, regardless of the virus infection rate in their county.
Two weeks ago, the TABC allowed The Celt to reopen as a restaurant in downtown McKinney. But the most recent change to TABC guidelines now makes it easier for bar owners to open as a restaurant if they’re partnered with food trucks or offering wrapped food that boosts their food sales over Gov. Abbott’s 51 percent mark for reopening.
The main difference now, Stan says, is that bar owners don’t need a full kitchen to open, which can cost about $30,000 for them to install.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he says.
The Celt opened last weekend after meeting TABC’s early August guidelines. Those guidelines included lowering their alcohol sales below 51 percent by using sales figures from April or projected ones. A permanent food truck or onsite kitchen was also needed.
In The Celt’s case, Stan says they have always had an onsite kitchen and a full menu. They simply weren’t hitting the majority food sales needed to remain open when Gov. Abbott shutdown bars in late June. A month later, they were able to submit a fairly brief business plan that changed their business model to include projected food sales exceeding the 51 percent of total sales mark.
“People are coming out,” says Stan, who also points out that the bar is officially a restaurant now. “They know they need to buy food to keep us open. We’ve seen a huge increase. It helps me sleep at night.”
Stan says they’re selling 60 percent food now and 40 percent alcohol, but since it’s a restaurant now, The Celt is only able to open at 50 percent capacity, according to Gov. Abbott’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Of course, not every bar owner will benefit from TABC’s new guidelines. A Fort Worth bar owner, Chris Polone, recently told the Dallas Observer, “It takes restaurants months if not years to become profitable in this. So you’ve got a bunch of mom and pop businesses that are broke as a joke right now and thinking that this is their only option to open up, when in all reality it’s going to cost them way more money and it puts a target on their back the size of the state of Texas.”
Local Profile contacted Chris to discuss TABC’s recent rule changes and why he feels it paints a target on the backs of mom and pop bar businesses. He had recently formed a group called “Children of Liberty,” which pays homage to the “Sons of Liberty,” a group of doctors, publishers, and writers who banded together in the late 1700s to protest government taxation.
The Children of Liberty Facebook group currently boasts about 20,000 members, many of them bar owners, and plans to host the “Come and Take It” open bar protest Saturday evening at about 800 bars around Texas, defying Gov. Abbott’s executive orders to remain closed while maintaining CDC’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“We don’t have a choice, or we’re going to go broke,” Chris says.
The reason Chris says the TABC is painting a target on bar owners’ backs is because the new guideline changes are “a trap and once you get that food beverage permit, you can’t transfer it back when the pandemic goes away.”
Chris says when you make the change and become classified as a restaurant, you have to answer to separate regulatory officials and the TABC can still shut you down if you are not maintaining a majority of food over alcohol sales. The food truck option sounds good in the press, but he recommends that bar owners truly trust the food truck vendor, who is essentially a contractor, since they have to submit their sales separately from the bar and account for the bar’s majority of food sales.
“It looks pretty to the general public,” he says, “but in reality it is all smoke and mirrors. If they (the TABC) cared, they would be pitching how bars can safely operate as opposed to [buying] food permits.”
Local Profile reached out to the TABC spokesperson, but didn’t receive a response by press time.
Over in McKinney, Stan says he feels for bar owners like Chris who still have to pay rent and feed their families because Gov. Abbott still hasn’t given any indication of financial assistance for them. It is difficult, he says, when some drinks like cocktails can cost more than a burger, which can make it difficult for some establishments to maintain the 51 percent food sales requirement.
And like other new restaurant owners, Stan is also wondering when the governor’s 50 percent capacity rule is going to expire.
“Two weeks ago, if you had asked me about this, we didn’t know what the future held because the governor has not given any indication about the future,” he says. “The Celt has won this battle and is still waging a war.”
For information about The Celt’s menu, visit their website at theceltmckinney.com, or you can visit their location at 100 N. Tennessee St., McKinney | 972.562.2929 |
The Come and Take it open bar protest takes place at 6 p.m. Saturday at The Rail Club Live, 3101 Joyce Dr, Fort Worth