Local bars and brewpubs that have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic now have an easier path to reopen their businesses for on-site consumption of alcohol.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) on Tuesday adopted emergency amendments to its rules for granting food and beverage permits, with the move aiming to allow more alcohol-oriented businesses to reopen as restaurants. After being forced to close in March and allowed to reopen in May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars and clubs in the state to close again in late June in an attempt to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Those businesses have been allowed to stay open for to-go sales. In late July, the TABC allowed bars with full kitchens to apply for food and beverage permits so they could operate like restaurants, which have been permitted to keep their dining rooms open at no more than 50 percent of their indoor building occupancy.
“Many establishments that would have otherwise remained shuttered will be able to reopen and operate in a safe manner due to these amendments,” the TABC said of Tuesday’s rule changes. “This result will not only help mitigate the economic crisis in the State of Texas resulting from the COVID-19 disaster, it will also protect the welfare of thousands of members of the regulated industry and their employees who rely upon the income from these establishments to support themselves and their families. Without the option offered by this rule amendment, many of these establishments will be forced to close permanently within the next 30 days.”
Shayn Robinson, owner of New Magnolia Brewing Co. at 1616 Bevis St. in Shady Acres, said being able to allow on-site consumption at even 25 percent capacity would be a “significant boost” to bars and breweries across the state. He said New Magnolia’s sales have decreased by 85 percent since before the pandemic, although he said his business is not in jeopardy of closing.
Still, Robinson said New Magnolia plans to take advantage of the new TABC rules, which will remain in effect for up to 120 days and can be renewed for no more than 60 days. In order to qualify for a food and beverage permit, businesses no longer need to have commercial cooking equipment, a permanent food truck on their premises or a menu that features food as prominently as alcoholic beverages.
Bars and brewpubs can qualify for the permit if they sell food from food trucks or other outside vendors, including commercially pre-packaged meals. The meals do not need to be consumed on-site, although the business must still demonstrate that no less than 51 percent of its on-site sales are food.
Robinson said he’s exploring a partnership in which New Magnolia can sell pre-packaged meals from a restaurant or similar business, which he called the “best solution for anybody that’s out there.”
“They’ve made it easier, so we don’t have to get a kitchen, don’t have to worry about equipment, don’t have to have one dedicated food truck in the parking lot,” he said. “That’s hard to manage. Not every patron is going to want to eat the same taco when they come.”
Robinson said the TABC’s emergency rule changes make the licensing process more equitable between bars and restaurants, since they have similar licenses and pay similar fees to the state. And while bars have been required to mostly stay closed during the pandemic, because Abbott said their brief reopening contributed to a spike in COVID-19 cases, restaurants have been allowed to stay open while benefitting from alcohol sales.
“The state’s trying to save face, trying to give us something, for making the bar and brewery industry the scapegoat for all of us,” Robinson said.