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Houston Restaurateurs Send Petition to Mayor Turner

Truth Barbecue leading the way.
Truth Barbecue leading the way.
Photo by Kate McLean

Update: 6:20 p.m. Mayor Sylvester Turner has sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging federal leaders to assist owners and employees of barsm nightclubs and restaurants whose businesses suffered significant financial loss because of the coronavirus-inspired shutdowns.

Original story

Making the point that Houston restaurants have given so much to the community whenever there has been a natural disaster or major event in the city, a number of Houston restaurateurs today signed a letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner asking him for help during the coronavirus crisis.

On Monday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner each order bars and clubs closed in their jurisdictions and restaurants to stop offering dine-in service. Since then, many restaurants that previously had little to nothing to do with takeour, delivery or pickup, have been transitioning into those efforts.

Abbie Byrom, the fiancee of Leonard Botello, owner of Truth Barbecue, said she wrote it Tuesday night after a long day of helping out at the restaurant on Heights Boulevard.

The help she's asking for includes everything from a delay in paying sales tax to mandating landlords charge them rent at cost to offer paid sick leave for employees.

While nationally the airlines and hotels have been advocating for help after the coronavirus -inspired drop in business, she said she "was no really seeing anything where someone was advocating for us."

So she wrote out her thoughts and then emailed them around to a small group of trusted friends. After receiving a thumbs up, she sent it out farther. By late afternoon Wednesday, she said she had around 500 signatures.

Here's the letter:

Mayor Turner,

Houston bars and restaurants are in crisis.

For decades, Houston has been a culinary beacon in Texas and the US. We are home to those who are currently heralded as the nation’s greats, a plethora of James Beard finalists, semi-finalists and much respected JBF winners. We tout one of the best asian culinary epicenters in the US in Chinatown and Bellaire. We are trend setters, innovators, mentors and boundary pushers. And we take care of Houston, no matter what.

Houston is home to more than 10,000 restaurants, a significant portion of our local economy. Without us, it grinds to a halt. Houstonians eat out more than any other city in the nation, including New York City, according to a recent Zagat survey.

We give back to our community; our elders, our Veterans, our neighbors, our children, and our employees. We take care of our own, in the words of one of our fearless leaders.

When the world got sick, we got busy. We raised our already rigorous and thorough cleaning and sanitation standards. We upended our operations to make them safer, and more comfortable in service of our guests. We adapted new business models and service modalities. We banded together to support our community and our country and the world in this humanitarian fight.

But now, Mayor Turner, it’s your turn. It’s time for your City Council, and our State Legislature to come together and get busy for the restaurant and hospitality community. We feed Houstonians during hurricanes, water main breaks, World Series, and so much more. We step up in a time of need and crisis, as we are doing now, and we need our local government to do the same.

Mayor Turner, your city’s restaurants need immediate relief. It’s time for the City of Houston, and the Mayor’s office to support Houston restaurants and bars.

Here are a few ways you can help us:

Negotiating delayed or deferred sales tax payments on the state level
Mandate for landlords to charge rent at cost, a 30 day relief, or renegotiate leases to scale back to market rate in 90 days
Offer paid sick leave for our employees
Use emergency funds to allow restaurants to file ‘interruption of business’ claims to cover 30 days of labor or rent costs; something insurance companies are denying during this crisis
Allow restaurant owners, who cannot file for unemployment at this time, to file for economic assistance due to furlough, closure, or loss of business greater than 50%

Our request is simple. Help us keep our restaurants open under these new rules during social distancing, and as always, we will give back in spades when the world turns right again.

In service to Houston, and restaurants everywhere.

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