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Frozen Dumpling Shop Steamies Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

The Highland shop is closed for now, highlighting the weight of the choice that restaurant owners must make about whether to remain open or to shut down during the pandemic

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Dumplings from Steamies
Dumplings from Steamies
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Frozen dumpling shop Steamies, the hit farmers market stand turned brick-and-mortar is currently closed after a part-time employee tested positive for COVID-19, its Instagram account has announced. The Highland shop will be closed through at least April 27, with outstanding orders being canceled and refunds going out to customers.

Per CDC recommendations following exposure to the virus, the small team is self-quarantining for 14 days, starting from the date the staffer last worked at the Highland shop. The employee is recovering, and co-owners Cindy Chee and Leslie Chau have indicated on Instagram that their four other staffers aren’t exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19. The virus can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers of the virus, referring to those who aren’t exhibiting any known novel coronavirus symptoms.

Restaurant owners across the country have had to weigh the risks and benefits of staying open throughout the pandemic. While food isn’t considered a transmission vector, there is still the possibility of employees getting sick because of working in close proximity with co-workers who potentially have the virus.

Chef and owner Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Salt Traders Coastal Cooking, which had been offering to-go food service, closed down the restaurants in mid-March because a hostess tested positive for the virus.

Chau acknowledged the risk in opening: “Early on, we made the conscious recognition that we’re a bunch of relatively young people,” he told Eater, “so it’s very possible that one of us will get the virus without showing any symptoms.”

Many restaurants that have made the to-go pivot have already ceased those operations because of these safety concerns. Chau and Chee considered not opening the frozen dumpling store last month, but decided they had no choice because they had already incurred debt and needed to make revenue.

With that in mind, Chee and Chau set up their own measures to help prevent the spread of the virus, while also following Austin Public Health restaurant guidelines. There was a contactless pickup system, where bags of preordered frozen dumplings placed on a table outside of the store for pickups, which only Chau and Chee prepared orders, minimizing employee contact with the food.

The co-owners will pay their current employees for the rest of the week, and are encouraging people to purchase gift cards for future dumpling orders, so that they’re able to continue to pay their staff during the following week. They’ve also applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), though Eater NY reports that the program has run out of money already.

After the self-quarantine period, Steamies plans to reopen. “We will be suspending operations at least until April 27,” its Instagram story read.


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