Many Texans have tried to move on from the devastating winter storm that hit the state back in February 2021, but for businesses that were left out in the cold when the Texas power grid failed, another looming winter season signals the need for serious preparation.
Yelp, the controversial online review platform that makes everyone a critic no matter the circumstance, including businesses suffering during COVID-19, seeks to make those preparations easier for a group of small businesses in Austin and San Antonio with its “Deck The Halls” winterization fund. The fund, totaling at $100,000, has been divvied up equally among 10 businesses, which were nominated in a Hunger Games-style fashion, an approach that’s all too familiar for restaurants seeking aid throughout the pandemic.
The fund recipients were announced on January 13, 2021. They include Austin businesses Aviator Pizza & Drafthouse, Crema Bakery & Cafe, Donn’s Depot, Foxhole Culinary Tavern, Kismet Cafe, Mint Salon, Paws on Chicon Pet Store, Revival Coffee, Taste of Ethiopia and San Antonio’s Comfort Cafe. Each business will receive $10,000 to assist in any necessary maintenance or updates, including pipe insulation, weatherstripping, water heater repairs, or backup generators.
“Deck The Halls” is a follow-up to a previous program launched by Yelp in August 2021 that encouraged residents in the state of Texas to weatherize their homes while also supplying $10,000 grants to five local businesses. One of those businesses, Casita Tex Mex in Dallas, used funds from that grant to help maintain operations after a fire last December.
“It’s actually helped us in three different ways: remodeling, payroll, and the sustainability of our food truck,” Casita owner Norma Valles tells Eater.
While $10,000 will help a few businesses to hunker down for the winter, Yelp’s weatherization fund and other independent funds like this point to a larger issue: The governmental structures and safety nets meant to ensure the wellbeing of residents and businesses are at risk of failing once again.
In November 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott guaranteed to FOX 7 Austin that “the lights will stay on” as a result of his signing a number of laws meant to fortify the Texas power grid, a response to the electricity generation failure that occurred during a series of snow and ice storms in 2021. The laws in question are intended to regulate and improve upon the energy systems Texas already has in place, but critics are wary of loopholes and weak language that give big players, including natural gas providers, too much slack.
Restaurants and grocery stores were harshly impacted by the storms and subsequent fallout, as power outages affected refrigeration and iced out roads kept shipments at bay for days. This inevitably led to a financial crisis for food-related businesses and a food crisis amongst Texas residents in major cities, who were left largely to fend for themselves and rely upon mutual aid.
After more than 200 people died as a result of the February 2021 freeze, another crisis seems to hang in the balance. While the lights might stay on for the 10 winners of Yelp’s “Deck The Halls” fund, for the rest of Texas, that remains to be seen.
Update, January 21, 2022, 2:52 p.m.: This article, originally published on December 1, 2021, has been updated to announce the winners of the “Deck The Halls” winterization fund.