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Welcome to Part 10 in a series in which we present the remarkable food and beverage experiences of a very strange year. In the spirit of the holiday season, it’s also a very special collaboration between Houston Press food writers and Houston Food Finder, the online publication founded by former Houston Press restaurant critic and food editor Phaedra Cook. This tenth edition takes a look at some of the innovative changes restaurants have made to help them survive the pandemic. Part 11 introduces some of our writers’ favorite stores and products.
Favorite general store addition to a restaurant
Local foods, Multiple Locations: To support sales and be more useful to customers, many Houston restaurants have added grocery departments and added multiple products for retail purposes. In some cases, these products came from excess inventory that was available due to a sharp drop in grocery sales. Local Foods went a step further, however, and owner Benjy Levit tried to support not only his own business but also small local vendors. For example, the mini general store that appeared at the Local Foods location in Rice Village sold meat, produce, and more from well-respected small local producers like Slow Dough, Blue Horizon, Katz Coffee, Black Hill Ranch, Dairymaids, and 44 on farms. To expand on that idea, Local Foods also offered family-sized meals, half-price wines, charcuterie, cheese, and more for a limited time. Residents could stop by, stock up on healthy foods, and get ready-made “crispy” chicken sandwiches and truffle egg salad to nibble on as soon as they got home. It doesn’t get much more “local” or “supportive” than this. – Phaedra Cook, Editor and Publisher, Houston Food Finder
Favorite pandemic-era restaurant renovation
To increase the social distance between groups of guests, the owners of Helen Greek Food & Wine at Rice Village have taken the drastic step of removing the bar.
Photo by Tim Faiola.
Helen Greek food and wine, 2429 Reis: When the dining rooms of the restaurant were allowed to reopen on May 1st with limited guest capacity, smaller businesses faced the additional challenge of safely accommodating enough guests in order to at least break even. At Helen in Rice Village, this was accomplished by bringing a sledge hammer to the bar and opening the narrow, shotgun-style room. After the bar was removed it was easier for the waiters to handle roadside sales and wine. In addition, this extensive renovation created a space in which the tables were safely separated from each other and a wider corridor to the toilets was possible. – – Sandra Crittenden, contributing writer, Houston Food Finder
Favorite restaurant security features and protocols
Shabu House went the extra mile to keep guests safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Eugene Lee.
From hand sanitizer to door temperature scans, proper security protocols were critical to ensuring a safe dinner. While some restaurants did the bare minimum, others walked all the way to keep guests and employees safe.
Shabu house, 9889 Bellaire: The hotel is located in the heart of Chinatown’s Dun Huang Plaza, the owner of the Shabu House Debbie Chen There was a sharp decline in patronage during February’s early COVID-19 concerns. Even so, it didn’t open immediately when the restaurant lockdown was lifted and instead opted for renovations that it deemed necessary to keep customers and staff safe. UV disinfectants for medical purposes were installed in their HVAC unit to sterilize the ambient air, and clear shower curtains were installed around the tables so that each party has their own safe, private space. Additional logs included Temperature scans on the door and Compulsory wearing of masks for employees and customers when they are not seated. In addition, the curtains between the seats of the guests are cleaned. – Mai Pham, contributing writer, Houston Press
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