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Dallas restaurants scramble to stay in business and retain employees during Covid-19 shutdown

"It's scary for everybody but it's especially scary when you're an hourly employee who might be living paycheck to paycheck," Amanda Boso said.

DALLAS — Owners and managers of restaurants and bars in Dallas spent the first day of the city-wide ban on dine-in services re-structuring their business models and trying to find ways to retain and pay employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

"Of course this is devastating," said Judy Spiva, general manager of Lucky's Cafe in Oak Lawn, a fixture in the Dallas neighborhood for more than 30 years. We met during what would normally be a full-house lunchtime rush. Tuesday, except for a handful of employees, we sat in the dining room alone.

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"It's sad. And I feel bad for all my employees," Spiva said. "I'm going to be lucky to try to keep 20% on and we will rotate to maybe help everybody a little bit," she said of her staff of 45, mostly paid in hourly wages.

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"We would typically be doing on a spring break Tuesday about $2,200 at our Deep Ellum location," said Amanda Boso of Twisted Root Burger Co. whose dining area and bar was mostly empty as well. "At this lunch period right now we've done $200 so far today."

I met Erin Barrington, the director of operations for Pecan Lodge in their equally empty outside dining area.

"We understand it's been a struggle for us and everybody else. So we're doing our best to adjust," Barrington said.

Pecan Lodge, Twisted Root, and Lucky's are all adjusting by moving completely to take-out and delivery. Pecan Lodge plans to offer drive-thru pickup service at its West Commerce catering location starting Wednesday. By ordering online and driving to 1618 W. Commerce, customers will not have to leave their cars to receive their orders. Walk-in service to go will be offered at its main location on Main Street in Deep Ellum.

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Lucky's, already active on a variety of food delivery services, plans to continue and expand those efforts.

Twisted Root, introducing a new to-go box for walk-in orders this week, is even offering its employees and their dependents a free meal every day.  

"It's scary for everybody, but it's especially scary when you're an hourly employee who might be living paycheck to paycheck," said Boso. "Everybody's going to need to do their part. The landlords, the banks, everybody's going to need to feel a little bit of the pain, otherwise, we're going to have certain sectors of the population that are going to experience an inordinate amount of pain." 

Boso says they will retain as many employees as they can during the shutdown but have already had to reduce hours for their existing employees at the Dallas location.

"I really hope that it doesn't go more than seven to 14 days," said Judy Spiva at Lucky's Cafe. "That is my hope."

That same hope is shared by thousands of hourly Dallas-area employees impacted by the city of Dallas ban on public dining rooms during the COVID-19 crisis. 

"Please come see us," said Spiva. "One way or the other. Please come see us."

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