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'It's not sustainable' | 10% of Houston-area restaurants at risk of closing for good

The Greater Houston Restaurant Association expects roughly 10% of restaurants will not reopen.

HOUSTON — Restaurants in the Houston area are struggling to make profits as thousands of people are unemployed and not spending money eating out.

Although restaurants can open at 25% capacity, Melissa Stewart from the Greater Houston Restaurant Association said Thursday that operating with that limitation provides little relief.

"It's not sustainable," Stewart said. "Even operating at 50% is not sustainable."

Stewart said the GHRA expects roughly 10% of restaurants will not reopen. She said there are about 13,000 restaurants in the Greater Houston Area, meaning about 1,300 will close for good.

"In order to be viable, restaurants need to be able to operate under the best circumstances," Stewart said. "It’s hard to lose any restaurant, but to lose them at a scale like that is going to be really, really heartfelt."

Those best circumstances—restaurants packed with customers every night—would likely break social distancing guidelines that require people to sit at least six feet apart.

Molina's Cantina in Bellaire is making the best of it, adding waitstaff back to work the curbside pickup orders.

"To-go – without it, I wouldn’t be standing here right now. It’d be very, very difficult," said Ricardo Molina, co-owner of the local restaurant chain. "The question of profit comes up quite a bit, and the reality is, breaking even would be great."

"Of those who do reopen, can they return to profitable? Can they make it? We don't know yet," Stewart said. "The restaurant industry is so diverse that it's hard to talk about too much in a broad stroke, but being closed down for seven weeks and limited capacity is devastating."

Requirements for restaurants to reopen have been updated. They must make hand sanitizing stations available upon entering the establishment, and allow no tables of more than six people.

Stewart said there are roughly 250,000 to 300,000 people who work in the restaurant industry in the Greater Houston Area. She said at least 50% have been furloughed or completely laid off.

The Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University and the Texas Workforce Commission report that restaurants and the hospitality industry lead the Gulf Coast region in unemployment claims.

"The sooner we reopen and work at capacity, the better it is for our industry," Stewart said.

"It’s going to take people a while to get comfortable coming in even at a 25% level. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be difficult, but it’s not impossible," Molina said.

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