HOUSTON — Businesses have been struggling mightily during this pandemic, and Tuesday's announcement from Governor Greg Abbott is welcome news for businesses still trying to survive.
Jonathan White and Jessica Beer are fourth-generation owners of Miller's Cafe off Shepherd Drive. They were holding on to Gov. Abbott's every word.
"It is now time to open Texas 100 percent," Abbott said.
That short sentence moved them to tears.
"This past year has been so hard for everybody, for people like us and all the other small business owners. This comes as a huge relief for people like us," White said.
It's been especially hard for this locally owned burger joint. In January, Trump supporters called for a boycott of Miller's Cafe simply for enforcing a mask mandate.
Abbott's order puts an end to that mandate, too.
"Now I don't have to put myself in that position anymore," White said. "I don't have to stigmatize my customers that just want a hamburger."
They're hoping business will pick right back up. Opening at 100 percent will allow them to rehire laid off employees and soon get back to normal.
"This gives us permission to be the Texans we deserve to be, to make our decisions to protect those we need to be protected and do what's right for all small business owners," White said.
White said it comes down to personal responsibility by both customers and businesses. They plan to keep employees wearing masks, but customers will get to choose.
"We want our customers to feel safe," Beer said. "We're going to keep tables at a distance, still have hand sanitizer."
They know there's a chance COVID-19 cases can go back up, but they're hopeful everyone will do the right thing to protect themselves and each other.
"I think all of Houston has been sitting in their houses and trying to wait this out," White said. "We're all waiting to just go out there to do something with our families and ourselves to get relief from all this that's happened."
The restrictions have been hard for nearly every business owner, but especially difficult for those who depend on hand-to-hand contact with their customers.
At Studio Prive salon in Sugar Land, the sign on the door will soon be removed.
“We were shut down for two months," said the salon's co-owner Theonee Kritikakis. "So that was really hard financially, not knowing the future.”
Kritikakis said they’re excited to soon be opening to full capacity once again after a tough year.
The restaurant below the salon had to close for good. Next week, things could look a lot different. No longer will there be limits on the number of stylists who may operate and nobody will be required to wear a mask.
The mask issue has been tough at the salon.
“Some clients refusing to come if they have to wear a mask," Kritikakis said. "Then you have another client that is very uncomfortable when someone isn’t wearing a mask. It’s been some drama for sure.”
It could be just like the old days next week, where every station could be full and clients could be waiting in chairs for their appointments.
Kritikakis said if a customer comes in wearing a mask, the stylist might also wear a mask, but it’ll ultimately be up to the stylist and the customer individually.
Not all business owners agree. Without a statewide order, each business will be able to decide just how they'd like to proceed. Below are more reactions from other local restaurant owners in Houston:
Chef Tim Love, Owner of Woodshed Smokehouse, Love Shack and Side Dough at Levy Park
"It's very apropos that the Texas governor announces on Texas Independence Day that we're going to be independent again. I think that's pretty epic.
"Almost one year ago to the day, we wrote what we call our COVID playbook, which we submitted to the governor's office and our mayor's office in Fort Worth. It was more strict than any state or federal mandate, and we followed those protocols to a 't' for almost a year. We're excited that they worked; we never had any issues at our restaurants, we kept everyone safe, and now we're coming through to the other end of this better and stronger."
Paul Miller, Owner of Gr8 Plate Hospitality (The Union Kitchen, Jax Grill)
"Our primary concern is for our staff and our guests, and while we certainly appreciate the opportunity to go back to 100 percent, and the Governor has removed the mask mandate. We are going to continue to uphold our safety and sanitation protocols as we slowly but surely move into this new phase of our business."
Patsy Vivares, Co-Owner of Sticky's Chicken
"We are thrilled Texas is opening 100 percent, but we will continue to practice COVID precautions due to the increase of the new variants. Last year when the state was the first to start reopening, we were also the first to see a spike, so we will be very cautious for the safety of our staff and guests. We won't be changing any protocols until all employees are vaccinated, there's a decline in COVID cases in Texas, and the CDC says it's safe to open."
Ryan Lachaine, Co-Owner and Executive Chef of Riel
"We’re still going to continue all the same health and safety protocols that have been in place here at Riel. That means everything will continue to be sanitized after use and all staff will be wearing masks. We ask that our customers continue to wear masks when they enter the restaurant.
"I understand that not everyone is going to agree with this. However the majority of our employees have not had the opportunity to get vaccinated, and we believe that keeping these safety protocols in place is the best way to keep our staff and customers safe."