New restrictions strain local restaurants and businesses, some fear permanent closures

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — As the City of El Paso reported a record-shattering 717 new virus positives and 438 hospitalizations on Thursday, City officials announced a set of restrictions set to go into effect on Friday.

Under the restrictions, businesses considered non-essential must roll back capacity to 50 percent from 75 percent.

Some local businesses worry this will lead to them closing permanently.

“We’ve faced two shutdowns already, we’re fortunate that we were at least able to open as a restaurant,” said John Mimbela, a co-owner of Honest Abe’s bar.

Although bars in El Paso must remain closed, Honest Abe’s is one of the dozens of bars allowed to operate as restaurants in the city due to relicensing with TABC approval. It normally closes at 2 a.m., but the new restrictions present another roadblock.

The City announced restaurants must close for dine-in customers at 9 p.m., but they still have the option to offer curbside or takeout. However, for Honest Abe’s, that just won’t cut it.

“It’s not cost effective for us, so we’ll just close the doors at 9 p.m., and hopefully that will be enough for us to pay our staff, pay our food truck, utilities, rent and keep the doors open, at least,” Mimbela said.

The bar owner said he understands why the restrictions were put in place, but added how it’s the employees who it affects the most.

“We’re trying to keep them employed. It’s not easy because once things shutdown or start slowing down, they tend to go on unemployment or try a different career path, so we’re just going to deal with what we can control,” Mimbela said.

When Gov. Greg Abbott initially announced more re-openings just a few weeks ago, he set a 15-percent hospitalization benchmark for counties to stay under or else restrictions would be reinstated. El Paso reported a 28-percent hospitalization rate on Thursday.

“The governor has said if you have a trauma area exceeding 15 percent for seven consecutive days, action may be taken,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said.

For Mr. Bigotes Restaurant, a family-owned business in Northeast El Paso, the restrictions only allow for less than 25 people in the restaurant at a time. The owner, Edgar Sanchez, said this makes it difficult to turn a profit.

“People not following the rules is bringing these results for businesses like us,” he said.

Sanchez said his restaurant has only been open for less than three years, but says business was booming before the pandemic hit. Now, he says the restaurant has been struggling to stay alive the past seven months.

“The prices went up on my merchandise, the meat went up and people get upset to pay a little more,” he said.

As El Paso sees its highest virus numbers yet in active cases, business owners fear for the future.

“We’re going to wait for the end of the year, see the numbers, see if we have any chances of bringing the business up, but I think closing is an option,” Sanchez said.

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