Trent Chastain, owner of Hops & Thyme beer garden in The Lakeway Towne Centre, said Saturday’s business was about the slowest he’s seen since opening in 2018. With experts recommending the public practice social distancing due to COVID-19, Chastain’s regular patrons are staying away.
"We were super busy on Thursday and Friday, and then Saturday, the bottom dropped out," Chastain said.
He was told by his general manager the parking lot, also housing Mangieri’s Pizza Cafe and Flores Mexican Restaurant, was empty on Saturday night.
Seeing that local businesses may suffer during these extreme times, longtime Lakeway resident Christa Hoffarth set about helping restaurants such as Chastain’s to stay afloat.
On March 14, she created COVID Safety Curbside Pickup Austin & Surrounding Areas, an online list of mostly Lake Travis businesses and restaurants which offer patrons the opportunity to pick up orders from their favorite haunts.
Within 24 hours, Hoffarth had signed up 35 restaurants—including Hops & Thyme—and six additional businesses including pet stores and even a car repair shop that would pick up a vehicle for the work to be done, without the customer needing to enter the facility.
"I feel like the businesses that are going to suffer are going to be all of our local businesses," Hoffarth said. "The economy is tanking, and the only thing we can really do is try to support the businesses in whatever way we can."
To begin compiling the expanding list, she reached out to Lake Travis area restaurants as well as the eateries she frequents, asking owners if they would be willing to provide a curbside pickup. Many agreed to the program in which customers call into the business and pay for their order ahead of time before driving up with a windshield sign listing their name, Hoffarth said. A restaurant staffer then delivers the order to either the vehicle’s interior or its trunk, with no physical contact involved in the transaction, she said.
"I want to continue to still patronize these restaurants but still remain socially distant," Hoffarth said. "I don’t personally want to eat canned soup for a month or so."
Spicewood’s J5 Steakhouse off Texas 71 closed its dining room on Saturday, offering free delivery instead. The business is also on Hoffarth’s curbside to go list.
"This is all just unsettling for everyone and (we’re) unsure of how to navigate through these really challenging times right now," said Kamilla Vainshtok, co-owner of the Austin Tea Exchange in Bee Cave’s Shops at the Galleria. She said she noticed a dip in business beginning in the middle of last week. Now, her restaurant and tea shop is on Hoffarth’s list and have started offering the new curbside service.
"Curbside delivery was one of the additional services we thought we could offer to folks who didn’t want to leave the safety or the security of their vehicles," Vainshtok said.
At about the same time Hoffarth was posting her list, Lakeway neighbor Tammy Stanley put up information on social media asking residents whether they needed deliveries of supplies or food, especially if they are older or immunosuppressed. She said she didn’t anticipate the response she received from other able-bodied community members who wanted to join her to deliver necessaries to those in need.
"While we have a lot of seniors, we also have a lot of families," she said. "We can help each other."
She said community members who didn’t leave for spring break have the ability to go to grocery stores and drop off a delivery to someone else "to make sure that that part of our community is taken care of."
Lakeway resident Jennifer Ozuna posted a petition on Change.org Sunday morning to request H-E-B allow only senior residents to shop in the grocery store from its opening at 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., before the general public enters. "This will allow them to feel a little safer gathering their supplies and it will also allow them a cleaner environment to do that in," the petition states.
"I kept seeing people post things on Facebook about how the elderly are one of the most compromised populations, and it would be great if we could somehow figure out a way for them to get their shopping done," Ozuna said.
She said she realized grocery delivery orders are currently backed up three days, a wait that isn’t adequate for elderly people who may need supplies sooner or can’t afford the additional service fees.
Within an hour of posting, Ozuna said she had 100 signatures and was up to 1,000 signatures as of Monday morning.
Although she hasn’t broached the idea yet with H-E-B, she said she plans to do so this week.
Bee Cave 17-year-old Isabelle Richter, whose grandfather has Alzheimer’s, received a Girl Scout Gold Star Award last year for a project that helps the minds of senior citizens stay sharp and includes mental exercises and stations. At the time, the sensory stimulation program was delivered to the Legacy Oaks of Lakeway Assisted Living and Memory Care facility, now Arbor Terrace Lakeway, where Richter volunteers.
Richter said she never thought her work would come into play for residents of nursing facilities who now can’t get outside or entertain visitors given current social distancing norms.
Her website www.memorylaneforalz.com offers videos to caregivers and other assisted living facilities on how to easily replicate the various activities created for the award, Richter said.
"There’s a lot of different ways they can help out at home without being directly hands-on," she said of caregivers who view the video.
As for her grandfather, Richter said he’s also been housebound due to COVID-19 protocols and unable to go to his daily programs. However, she said his wife recreated some of Richter’s activities and is working with him at home.
"My goal was to make (the program) sustainable somehow, but I didn’t think it would help with something like the coronavirus where it really does make an impact," Richter said.
For more information about Stanley’s program, email her at email@example.com. For more information about Hoffarth’s list, go to www.facebook.com/austinareacurbsidepickup.