As COVID-19 cases increase rapidly in the United States due in part to the new omicron variant, Austin restaurants and bars are temporarily closing down this week, much like other cities throughout the country.
Some restaurants have chosen to temporarily close down due to staffers testing positive for COVID-19, like Franklin Barbecue. Because there won’t be enough employees to operate the Central East Austin restaurant — which reopened for dine-in service for the first time during the pandemic earlier in November — co-owner and pitmaster Aaron Franklin opted to keep the business closed for this week as of Monday, December 20. He told Austin 360 that a third of the team tested positive, everyone was fully vaccinated and boosted, and are experienced mild symptoms. The plan is to reopen on Tuesday, December 28.
Likewise, North Loop Japanese restaurant Kome, which has been open for takeout services only, temporarily closed over the weekend because of staff being exposed to COVID-19. Co-owners Kayo and Take Asazu intended to reopen on Monday, December 20, after the staff went through testing. However, in another Instagram post, the owners confirmed the restaurant had to remain closed due to test availability and processing times. Since then, the restaurant reopened for dinner takeout service on Wednesday, December 22.
On Tuesday, December 21, Kome’s sibling spot Sa-Ten shared that some of its staffers have tested positive for COVID-19, so both locations of the cafe are closed for the following three days, according to Instagram, coupled with its already-planned Christmas break. The plan is to reopen on Sunday, December 26.
Ramen Tatsu-ya posted on its Instagram stories that the South Lamar location will be closed on Wednesday, December 22 through 5 p.m. because of a staffer testing positive for COVID-19. In the meantime, it will test all potentially exposed staffers and clean the restaurant. It reopened for dinner takeout service that evening, but closed again on Thursday, December 23 with the plan to reopen on Sunday, December 26.
Central East Austin skee ball spot Full Circle Bar shared that both employees and staffers in the space have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting a temporary closure this week as of Monday, December 20. It plans on reopening on Thursday, December 30. Likewise, Caribbean restaurant Island Fork closed on Wednesday, December 22 for the same reason.
Also on Tuesday, December 21, North Loop bar Drink.Well disclosed that two staffers tested positive for COVID-19, who are staying home with mild or no symptoms, according to the Instagram post. Immediately, other members were tested and found to be negative, which meant that the bar was able to stay open for service. The post also noted that every employee has been vaccinated, and many already received booster shots.
East Austin New American wine restaurant Birdie’s ended up having to take its Christmas break three days early starting on Tuesday, December 21 because a staffer tested positive for COVID-19.
Downtown restaurant Hestia announced it was closing for the rest of the week starting on Wednesday, December 22 because of a staffer who tested positive for COVID-19. Sibling restaurant Canje
Food truck Patrizi’s shared that two vaccinated staffers tested positive on Thursday, December 23, prompting a temporary closure so that everyone else can get tested, as shared on its Instagram story. It plans on reopening on Monday, December 27.
South First restaurant Lenoir posted that an employee who didn’t interact with guests tested positive for COVID-19 and that the staff has been vaccinated and has been masking. The restaurant closed that Tuesday, December 22, and will remain so until it reopens on Tuesday, December 28 and all staffers have tested negative.
Likewise, because of potential COVID-19 exposure, coffee shop Try Hard closed at noon on Thursday, December 23, with a plan to reopen on Sunday morning, December 26.
Downtown bar Small Victory has a COVID-19-positive staffer on Wednesday, December 22, so it closed that evening. It plans on reopening on Thursday, December 23 for curbside pickup services, and notes that only its staffers who have tested negative will be working.
East Austin bar Shangri-La noted that there have been both staffers’ and customers’ COVID-19 cases, so the bar closed down on Wednesday, December 22. It plans on reopening on Thursday, December 23.
Then, out of precaution due to this omicron-led surge, other Austin restaurants and bars have decided to preemptively close down cut this holiday week to mitigate the potential spread of the virus. Red River bar and club Cheer Up Charlie’s was one of the first Austin businesses to do this. Co-owners Tamara Hoover and Maggie Lea wrote in an Instagram post that they wanted to avoid operating a crowded bar at this time while also adding a new air filtration system. They had originally planned on reopening on December 26, but have extended the closure into Thursday, December 30, so it can host its New Year’s Eve celebration the following day.
Highland Japanese restaurant Sazan Ramen announced on Instagram that it was closing this week, as a way of “erring on the side of caution [...] due to COVID-19.” It closed on Sunday, December 19, and will reopen on Monday, December 27.
Similarly, East Austin Korean restaurant Oseyo said that it was closing starting on Wednesday, December 22, because of the current COVID-19 surges. Owner Lynn Miller wrote on Instagram, “We’re committed to protecting our team,” and that they will implement new safety measures for staffers and guests. The restaurant plans on reopening on Wednesday, December 29.
Similarly, East Austin wine shop Saba San’s is closed for the rest of this week, as announced in an email newsletter sent on Wednesday, December 22, “to allow our team to be with their families and stay healthy given the surge in COVID cases around town.” Also, South Austin restaurant Bouldin Creek announced it closed as of that same day so that its staff can get generally tested over the holidays. It will reopen on Sunday, December 26.
Hestia’s sibling restaurant Canje decided to cancel its New Year’s Eve party due to COVID-19 concerns, but will remain open for dinner service that evening.
While Travis County’s current COVID numbers aren’t as high as in Houston, cases have been increasing. During a press conference the morning of Tuesday, December 21, officials from Austin/Travis County Public Health confirmed that there is community transmission of omicron in Austin and that the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium indicates that the omicron variant will increase cases in the area, which would overwhelm local hospital systems.
The officials urged Austinites to continue to wear masks, get vaccinated, get boosted, test often, and stay home if they’re not feeling well. Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said that people should “wear masks in all indoor situations, including indoor dining and shopping.”
In light of this surge, APH lowered the threshold numbers for its risk-based guidelines (stage-based guidance on masks, gatherings, travel, dining, and shopping based on vaccination statuses), based on the seven-day moving day averages of hospital admissions. Currently, the city and county are in Stage 3, which asks high-risk vaccinated people to mask when dining and unvaccinated/partially vaccinated people to wear masks during all situations, among other measures. But if the number of hospital admissions increases, that would trigger an escalation into Stage 4, which asks vaccinated people to wear masks in all situations and unvaccinated/partially vaccinated people to only travel and shop if essential and stick to takeout/curbside dining only.
Because of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s state mandate, local entities are neither allowed to require city-wide masking nor vaccine passes or requirements.
Update, Thursday, December 23, 1:27 p.m. This article, originally published on Tuesday, December 21, 12:30 p.m., has been updated to include information from additional restaurants and bars impacted by COVID-19.