As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Eater checked in with the Austin’s defining restaurants to see how the pandemic has affected business, service models, and more. Next up in this series: Eric Silverstein, founder of comforting Allandale Asian-Southern restaurant The Peached Tortilla.
Eater: How has COVID-19 pandemic affected business?
Eric Silverstein: We have seen a dip in sales since we are now primarily focused on takeout. We opened the dining room in the middle of June at about 40 percent capacity. We closed temporarily on June 30, because an employee tested positive. COVID-19 has made us pivot our business model weekly, and we have paid for it with, not only mental and emotional stress, but financial stress as well.
The Peached Tortilla is about 60 percent takeout. Although Burnet had good takeout business pre-pandemic, the takeout orders are up probably 350 to 400 percent because of the pandemic. About 85 percent of our sales at Bar Peached [Silverstein’s other restaurant in Clarksville] is dine-in.
What is the current service model?
Limited dining with a focus on takeout/curbside and third-party deliveries.
How has business been so far?
Takeout has done surprisingly well. We’re happy with our takeout business and hope the new alcohol regulations [selling sealed mixed cocktails to-go is now legal in Texas as of June 27] will help us sell more booze. Family meals that were sold through the restaurant went great early on. The at-home cooking kits did so-so. I feel like they started off strong, but then petered out as more restaurants opened up. I think people still want to eat out more than cook at home.
What measures are you currently implementing?
We disinfected the entire building with a 90-day nano-spray [disinfecting mist for COVID-19] prior to reopening our dining room. For dine-in business, we contact-trace customers using OpenTable, which does not delete data (for walk-in customers, we enter names and phone numbers). We take their temperatures before they walk in, and we have sanitizer stations throughout the restaurant. We offer paper menus. We seat pretty much every other table, and tables are not pre-set with anything. We eliminated shared condiments.
Are you planning any changes due to COVID-19?
Depending on how bad this recent surge gets, we will likely add outdoor seating and further limit indoor seating.
As a business owner, how did it feel to have an employee test positive? How did your employees feel?
It was scary, but I was mentally prepared for it. From talking to other restaurant owners, it was just a matter of time. I’ve been transparent with our staff from day one and we were all of the same mindset that this was a possibility. We also had a testing plan in place. Our employees definitely felt better when everyone was tested and they were given a clean bill of health. We tested everyone top to bottom.
What are some surprises that you’ve encountered?
Definitely how the portability of our food has resonated in high takeout sales. That’s a huge plus.
These responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.