As a historic storm is devastating Austin with icy roads, below freezing temperatures, and over 200,000 people without power, the city’s hospitality industry is responding as best they can. While the vast majority of restaurants in Austin are closed (due to lack of power, the safety of the staff, or both), a few have had to quickly adapt to changing conditions.
Zilker bakery ThoroughBread made bread and cookies on Sunday night, but was unable to sell them on Monday because the power went out. So the shop set their wares out for the taking in front of the store. “It was a no-brainer to leave all the baked goodies out front for our neighbors,” says owner Ryan Goebel. “It is scary and stressful to be without power and disconnected from the world. We were hoping that maybe a loaf of bread or a cookie would make things a tiny bit easier for our community.”
Preserving ingredients is still a priority for restaurants. With power out to the fridges, Goebel also decided to “turn the whole place into a refrigerator” to save some of the inventory by propping the doors and windows open (he says the bakery is currently at 36 degrees, so it might work). After the freezers went out at Highland shop Steamie’s Dumplings, the owners made an emergency trip to the restaurant to rescue the dumplings and transport them to backup freezers at home, hoping the power would stay on there.
Other Austin restaurants also shared what they had with the community. Cajun food truck Baton Creole worked with independent delivery service Runner City to deliver 240 hot meals to the homeless shelters. North Loop cafe Epoch Coffee set out “take what you need” coffee, although the cafe wasn’t open for service. And campus-area Vietnamese restaurant Sip Pho, which is open, is offering free meals to first responders.
Restaurants were often limited by the employees’ ability to get to work safely on icy roads. Black Star Co-op and Texas French Bread opened on Tuesday because employees lived nearby. Essential taco spot Veracruz was able to open its downtown location at the Line because the hotel provided rooms for the restaurant’s staff.
Other restaurants have not been so lucky. Some restaurant workers have had to take refuge in their restaurants as their homes are without power. After a disappointing Valentine’s Day where two-thirds of their reservations cancelled, co-owners and chefs Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley of Foreign & Domestic were forced to stay in a hotel room because it was so late.
Without heat at home on Monday night, the pair stayed in their Lockhart restaurant Commerce Cafe. “Neither restaurant is open today despite having electricity in both. We don’t want to use any additional equipment and electricity to open,” explains Heard. “Our entire staff is without heat right now, and may be sleeping in the dining room tonight.” That said, accommodations at the restaurant are not exactly lavish — Heard and Lemley cut water supply to the building as a precaution, so they’ve been boiling ice for drinking water.
Most restaurants are keeping it simple and staying closed. As North Shoal Creek Tex-Mex restaurant Eldorado Cafe wrote on an Instagram post on Sunday: “Y’all. I am a mom. My son works at the cafe. I don’t want him to drive and I don’t want your child to drive either.”
Update, 3:11 p.m.: This article, originally published at 3:40 p.m., has been updated to include comments from chef Sarah Heard.