Restaurants and grocery stores hope lifting mask mandate will stay peaceful

Miya Shay Image
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Workers bracing for possible confrontations over masks
There's still a lot of controversy that comes with decisions being made by businesses on whether they will keep their mask rules in place or go along with Gov. Greg Abbott. ABC13's Miya Shay spent time in downtown Houston and shares what one restaurant is saying and how people protested at the Texas Capitol on Monday.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As the state of Texas prepares to lift its mask mandate on Wednesday, businesses on the front lines of serving customers face-to-face are bracing for possible confrontations.

"We're definitely preparing just for someone who may still not like the mask rule," said Haig Tscholakian, whose family owns Phoenicia Specialty Foods as well as a restaurant.

Tscholakian said the family grocery will still require masks, and fortunately, the response so far is overwhelmingly positive.

However, employees do have a plan in place if someone walks in without a mask.

READ ALSO: Houston restaurant and grocery workers worry about their safety

The daily routine at restaurants and bars has involved masking up and wiping down. Now, they're afraid of what's going to happen next.

"We're going to ask politely, we're not going to make a scene, we're just going to ask and we'll supply you a mask," he said.

Across town at Kenny and Ziggy's Deli, there was a wait outside for lunch on Monday as the restaurant maintained a 50% capacity. Every guest also gets a temperature check before they are even allowed to go inside.

"I'm a business owner. I'm a very conservative person," said Ziggy Gruber, a well-known restaurant man in Houston with a big personality. "I don't care if you're a conservative or liberal person, this is not about either political side, it's about common sense."

How diners react to restaurants as the mask mandate is lifted could have a profound effect across Texas. According to the National Restaurant Association, there are 1.34 million restaurant and food service jobs in Texas, accounting for approximately 1 in 10 employees in the state.

The group said there are more than 48,000 eating and drinking establishments, which generated more than $66 billion in sales in 2018. The industry has been hit hard by COVID-19 and operators are trying to balance the need for business with employee safety.

Neither restaurant workers nor grocery store employees who cannot work from home are prioritized for vaccines.

"About half my employees are vaccinated," said Gruber, adding it's another reason why the masks must stay on.

Fortunately, at his restaurant, even customers who disagree said they'll abide by the rules.

WATCH: What will happen if you go to H-E-B without a mask?

With the mask mandate being lifted next week, some customers may be worried about what their favorites stores will do. H-E-B President Scott McClelland explained to ABC13 what you can expected after the mask mandate is lifted on Wednesday, March 10.

"I think it's up to the individual business," said Rob Ciara, who disdains the mask mandate. "I think it's kind of silly, but if they want to have their rules, they can certainly do that."

What local restaurant, bar and grocery operators don't want is to get into confrontations with customers.

All are in the service business and want to please their guests, but they also care about employee safety, so they are asking everyone to please be kind.

"We can all see the light at the end of the tunnel. We can all see vaccines rolling out. We can all hope this is coming sooner or later," said Tscholakian. "Be mindful of each other and customers and staff, and this is the right thing to do."

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