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Austin History Center Needs Photos and Menus to Document How Restaurants Are Dealing With Coronavirus

AHC aims to preserve a record of the city’s response to the pandemic —including how dining habits changed with social distancing

Tso Chinese Delivery distributing meals as part of its TsoGiving initiative
Tso Chinese Delivery distributing meals as part of its TsoGiving initiative
Tso Chinese Delivery [Official]

As the global novel coronavirus pandemic continues, the Austin History Center (AHC) is working on creating an archive documenting the impact of the virus on the city. However, there’s one important facet of Austin that is still missing from the archives: the city’s restaurant industry.

In April, AHC put out a call for photographs, menus, signage, and other documents from local restaurants. So far, the only restaurant that has responded was Tso Chinese Delivery. “We felt like it was important to remember how our community came together during a great time of need in our city,” said co-founder Eunice Tsang, explaining why the company contributed.

“Austin is a restaurant city, people love eating out,” said Madeline Moya, the organization’s media archivist. “Austin really values and thrives on small business and locally owned places.”

That sentiment rings especially true now as many restaurants are struggling to stay afloat after those forced dining room shutters, decimated sales, and supply disruptions, all while trying to pay rents, bills, and payroll. Already, numerous longtime restaurants — such as Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard, Threadgill’s, and Cafe Josie — have already closed permanently since the beginning of the pandemic. “We do want to have a record that they were here,” Moya added.

Tsang wanted to showcase how Tso took the pandemic in stride during a time when anti-Asian racism became more rampant because of misinformation regarding the virus. “Our hopes are that when people reflect on this time,” she said, “they will be inspired and learn that proactive acts of love and kindness are some of the best ways to help people during uncertain times.”

This is why the company submitted information about its charitable initiative, TsoGiving, which began in March. It “was one way for us, as Asian-American business owners, to show our community that we were in this together with them,” she said. Through the program, Tso is giving away away food to people in need during the ongoing length of the pandemic.

When it comes to desired restaurant materials, AHC is looking for “any kind of files like that document the process of what these restaurants and small businesses did during the pandemic is what we’re looking for,” described Moya.

This could include company-wide announcements detailing changes in services to mitigate the spread of the virus (restaurants that pivoted to takeout-only, high-end restaurants turning into casual counter-service restaurants), internal correspondence detailing discussion-making processes to comply with city and statewide orders, and social media announcements.

This way, the city of Austin will have tangible documentation of what happened to the city during these unparalleled times. “So we have a record of their contributions to our economy and to our culture,” Moya said.

In the future, people will be able to access the archives and see how “Austin dealt with the pandemic,” Maya explained, “and the big consequences and long-term implications of having to close down for so long. They’ll want to look back at examples and see how people responded.”

AHC is currently taking submissions through its website, ranging from image files to text documents to audio snippets.