While markets surged in response to better than expected employment numbers Thursday, small business owners across the state of Texas are still struggling to stay afloat amidst unpredictable local and state coronavirus restrictions.
In Northeast Harris County, owners of the iconic Tin Roof BBQ say they have been doing their best to keep the business going since March, but under current restrictions, revenue is down by more than 50 percent.
“We are complying with all the orders, but with limited operation, we can’t go on like this forever,” owner Nancy Webber told The Texan.
Nancy and husband Ronnie have owned and operated Tin Roof BBQ in Humble for more than twenty years. The business is a family affair with two of the Webber’s adult children working full-time in the restaurant, but Ms. Webber says they employ 28 in total.
Locally renowned for in-house, scratch-made sauces and rubs, the family-friendly spot usually draws a big lunch crowd during the week and packs both indoor and outdoor seating on the weekends while live bands perform on the outdoor stage. The venue is also often rented out for special events, such as weddings, parties, and fundraisers, and operates a normally robust catering service.
Under the limited re-opening restrictions, Webber told The Texan that revenues last month were about $188,000, compared to the previous year’s monthly revenue of $400,000.
After they were forced to close under government orders last March, the Webbers applied for and received a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan which allowed them to continue to pay their employees.
“We don’t want to lose our employees; it takes too much to train them, and they’ve all been here for years and years and years, and we didn’t want to lose them,” Webber explained. “So, we didn’t get paid, but they did.”
According to the most recent numbers available from the Texas Workforce Commission, state unemployment claims began to creep upward again this week with 110,700 new claims.
Webber says that Tin Roof BBQ has never laid off employees, even after the restaurant was closed temporarily due to a fire in 2017, but she is not sure what the future holds.
“If we have to close down again, we might last two months, but that’s it.”
Since Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo ordered businesses to enforce a mask order or face threat of a $1,000 per violation fine, Webber says customers have mostly complied, but some have complained.
“One man said he wouldn’t wear a mask and that he’d never come back again,” she said. “There’s not much I can do about it because I can’t afford the fines, so we just posted signs with the number for Hidalgo’s office.”
After the county issued new “Stay Home” orders last week, Tin Roof BBQ stopped serving customers in-house and only provided curbside and delivery service, but Webber said they cannot generate enough revenue that way and will again open the indoor and outdoor dining to 50 percent capacity today.
Prior to the latest round of mask orders, a private event hosted by the Kingwood Tea Party at Tin Roof BBQ drew a complaint, not from an attendee, but from a man who saw pictures of the event on social media.
Webber told The Texan she is not aware of any official complaints filed against her business, and said employees of the county fire marshal’s office often eat there.
“If there was a problem, I think they’d let me know.”
As for what she thinks ought to happen going forward, Webber said, “Let us do what we are supposed to be doing. Leave us alone. “What they’re doing is forcing small businesses, and even large businesses, out of business.”
“People have brains, let them decide whether they want to take the risk.”
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.