Liberty County restaurants still open for business despite pandemic

Jessie Mann, owner of The Big Kahuna in Cleveland, says her business has seen a sharp decline since the coronavirus pandemic stopped in-house dining and forced people to stay at home, but she is still seeing enough business to pay her employees and cover her costs.

Local restaurants have had to reinvent themselves in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. With in-house dining closed due to state mandates, many restaurants across Liberty County have adjusted their hours, reduced staff, opened drive-through lanes and started delivery service in order to stay in business.

Some restaurants are still operating a thriving business, though they are working harder than ever and still unable to reach their pre-pandemic revenue.

“I am making about 75 percent of what I was making before the virus. I am not getting as much business right now but I am thankful that I am able to pay my bills and pay my employees,” said Jessie Mann, owner of The Big Kahuna Restaurant in Cleveland.

Mann, who has operated the business at 106 E. Crockett in Cleveland for more than a decade, credits her ability to keep her doors open to her loyal customer base. She says they have easily adapted to picking up to-go orders from a tent outside the entrance. One employee does the footwork, running back and forth with orders and making changes, while Mann oversees her small kitchen.

“I thank God for my customers. They tell me they are just glad we are open. They are taking care of us right now,” Mann said. “With their help, we will make it for another month or so until things get back to normal.”

The staff of Pueblo Viejo are adapting well to the changes forced upon local restaurants due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Like many other restaurants across Liberty County, they have set up an outdoor area where customers can pick up curbside orders.

The sale of alcohol has been a plus for some restaurants, like Pueblo Viejo Mexican Restaurant and La Costa Seafood and Bar, says Juan “Pepe” Lozano, one of the family owners of the two restaurants that serve the Cleveland area.

“We’ve been selling lots of margaritas. I think that’s one thing that has kept us going. It started out as delivery only but now our customers can pick it up, too,” Lozano said. “People have been really great and have been tipping well. We haven’t had any layoffs yet except for a couple of guys who were cashiers. Everyone else is good. People know the situation. We are all in the same boat together, but God is good. We really appreciate everyone’s support.”

Patrons of the El Burrito restaurants in Liberty and Dayton also are opening up their wallets and pocketbooks to help. Manager Wendy Medina says that some customers have left tips of $100 above the cost of their order.

“The community has provided. Thank the Good Lord above for that. We’ve got all our kitchen staff pretty much employed, the ones who want to work, but of course their checks are so low from hours being cut. [We are] just trying to keep everyone with food in their mouths,” Medina said.

Medina is taking on tasks that were previously performed by other staff members in order to trim costs and make sure that every essential role in the restaurants is filled. After working a full day on Sunday, Medina was already gearing up to make tortillas Monday morning for the two restaurants.

Tommie Daniels of Cleveland wears a mask to protect him from Coronavirus while he picks up a to-go order at The Big Kahuna in Cleveland on Friday.

“I’m just tired, just physically and emotionally drained trying to keep them all safe, all making some kind of money, and keep the business going so we can continue to provide for the community,” she said.

Her goal every day is to ensure that her customers are happy and her employees are paid, even at a reduced wage, and to encourage everyone she encounters.

“I am trying to keep the staff in good spirits while the world is in chaos, taking orders on my phone for both locations through all apps while answering the phones in person, and all the while being emotional because the community is taking care of us, too” she said.

The chambers of commerce in Liberty, Dayton and Cleveland have compiled helpful guides on local restaurants that remain open for business. The guides include the hours and days of business, phone numbers, websites and Facebook pages, and addresses.

Click here to see the restaurants that are part of the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce: https://www.libertydaytonchamber.com/blog/local-restaurant-services-during-covid-19/642

Click here for the Dayton Chamber of Commerce guide: https://daytontxchamber.com/dayton-food-and-restaurant-guide

Click here for the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce guide: https://chambermaster.blob.core.windows.net/userfiles/UserFiles/chambers/2539/File/DiningOptions.pdf

Cleveland ISD Superintendent Chris Trotter (left) and Board President Chris Wood practice social distancing from other customers while enjoying a meal at Bailey’s Barbecue in Cleveland on Friday.

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