Local businesses carefully roll out openings during COVID-19 crisis

A couple and their furry friend enjoy the Rock House Bar and Trailer Park reopening on May 1. LESLEE BASSMAN

Leaders at Rock House, Oz., Menchie’s and Waters share COVID-19’s impact and reopening plans

Update since this article published: Galaxy Cafe Steiner Ranch announced permanent closure

By LESLEE BASSMAN , Four Points News

During the past couple of months, Four Points businesses employed various mainstream and creative options to keep their accounting ledgers in the black, with some ventures maintaining contactless customer service and others having to close down completely. 

And, due to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, the Steiner Ranch and River Place landscape won’t be the same. At least for now.

Dr. James Waters gets back to business

Dr. James & Kim Waters

Board Certified Orthodontist James Waters, who maintains two offices in Steiner Ranch and Central Austin, said he had no choice but to close his doors just before Spring Break hit in mid-March.

“For dentistry in particular and for orthodontics, we’re governed by not just Governor Abbott’s executive orders but by our licensing board,” he said. 

The Board of Dental Examiners provided “pretty rigid” guidelines for its members to follow, he said, permitting physicians to only provide “lifesaving” procedures, measures that didn’t include repairing broken wires inside a patient’s mouth.

“They made it so stringent that the implication is if something happened and someone had that virus and got it through your practice, you would be liable,” Waters said. “We saw what we felt were some really significant emergencies (while the office was closed).”

Those patients were seen alone, with no one else in the office, tallying only about six individuals needing assistance, he said. The lack of regular checkups during this time won’t set back patients, he said, since the connection wires of orthodonture are made of titanium and various alloys that allow its resistive force to exist for long periods of time.

“So if we’re closed for eight weeks and someone misses one visit, no, it’s not going to set them back,” Waters said. 

With five employees, he applied for a Small Business Association loan program aimed at employers being able to continue to pay their staff and cover business expenses — the Payroll Protection Program. After two tries, the federal funds finally arrived at midnight on May 1 and he reopened his practice on May 4. 

Meanwhile, Waters said he used his personal money and retirement fund savings to pay his employees their full salaries and ensure the practice remained viable. During the time he was closed, he said the office received only about half a dozen payments for services rendered, way below its normal revenue.

“A modern dental office with digital stuff — we have bills that are every month,” Waters said of his receipts for software, x-ray products and accounting in addition to normal utilities and rents. “That Payroll Protection (Program), it doesn’t cover all that.”

He distinguished the practice of orthodontics from dentistry that has a charge per procedure. But Waters’ patients are on payment plans that occur over years of treatment. He said he fears that, with current unemployment rates, many of those patients won’t be able to make their plans.

“There’s going to be people who go out of business,” Waters said. “I’m fully expecting that.”

Rock House welcomes patio guests

Rock House Bar and Trailer Park reopened on May 1, limiting guests to its patio. The Four Points restaurant provided service via curbside and to-go orders and hosted onsite food trucks. LESLEE BASSMAN

On May 1, two-year old Rock House Bar and Trailer Park welcomed guests onto its patio after providing service via curbside and to-go orders from the eatery as well as the food trucks onsite. 

Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott mandated commercial and retail enterprises can open on the first of the month but are limited to only 25% of capacity. 

“We’ll be doing everything in our power to make sure the rules are upheld,” co-owner Jeffrey Tobey said. 

Given the new constraints, he said the turnout was slow on opening day.

“That’s fine,” Tobey said. “I’d rather people be cautious than not.”

The outdoor measure is easier for its crew to be able to sanitize tables and chairs, and its new limited menu is easier to navigate given current restaurant supply issues, he said. 

Oz. Tap House shows its philanthropic side

Oz. Tap House started offering take-out meals when the COVID-19 crisis hit, co-owner Sean Kanter said. Initially, the River Place eatery lost about 80% of its business until local residents became more accustomed with to-go ordering and profits slowly rose, he said. Now, Oz. Tap House is open for dine-in patronage.

However, the restaurant’s service to the community doesn’t end at its doorstep.

Recognizing that many families and individuals may not be able to afford a meal under current circumstances, Kanter opened a GoFundMe page, spearheading efforts to raise monies for those in the community and beyond. 

“It was (started) to collect donations to help feed those in need,” Kanter said of the project. “And that’s still ongoing.”

He said some customers buy a meal for someone else or an unemployed patron has asked that their meal be charged to the fund. Kanter said he’s also used the fund to donate meals to drive-through COVID-19 testing site staffers.

The GoFundMe page was created on March 18, and as of May 6, had a balance of $4,194, although some debits have already been made.

“There is a little bit more money (left) in the fund and we are searching for the right time to continue helping because this is far from over,” Kanter said.

Menchie’s set to reopen mid-May

Following its April 1 close, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt is set to reopen the weekend of May 15, said franchise owner Robert Elmer who also heads up the Cedar Park and Lakeline stores. However, he said patrons should expect some changes once the popular hangout allows in-person dining.

Customers will be required to don gloves to get their frozen yogurt from the spigots or request a staffer to help. Toppings will be available in pre-measured, individual 2-ounce cups with lids. A sanitization station will be present and a plexiglass shield will be in place between customers and the checkout stand.

During its closure, Elmer said the staff gave the store a thorough cleaning and reorganized the back of the shop. Menchie’s stores are planning to offer an online ordering option through an app with curbside pickup, but the new measure won’t be available as the dessert shops reopen, he said.

“Those are some of the precautions we are taking and the changes that customers will see when we reopen,” Elmer said. “But, we think all of this will be temporary. I just don’t know what the definition of ‘temporary’ is at this point.”

Galaxy Cafe remains closed, for now

Local Galaxy Cafe fans may need to wait a bit longer for the restaurant’s reopening, despite all of its other locations reopening, including Mesa Drive, Brodie Lane and Central Austin, said Megan Rahner, general manager of the group’s West Lynn site. Its local sister eatery, Top Notch, is open as well, she said.

“(The Steiner Ranch) store will be closed for the time being as we see how busy our other locations get and where we’re at, financially, in a couple of weeks,” Rahner said.

According to Rahner, the eatery will reopen but its ownership “just doesn’t have a date yet.” She said the closure was due to increasing cases of COVID-19 in the state, and for health and safety reasons. The restaurants’ executive team received state funds that helped reopen the other locations, Rahner said.

“We just decided Steiner wasn’t in a position to open just yet,” she said.

As of press time, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf did not respond to emails and telephone calls from the Four Points News. Its Steiner Ranch location has “For Lease” signs in the windows.

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf store in Steiner Ranch has “For Lease” signs in the windows. LESLEE BASSMAN
Rock House Bar and Trailer Park reopened on May 1, limiting guests to its patio. The Four Points restaurant provided service via curbside and to-go orders and hosted onsite food trucks. LESLEE BASSMAN