HOUSTON — Guard and Grace restaurant is located in a gleaming space at downtown’s Allen Center.
But its recent past has been gloomy.
"You know, I’ve been in the restaurant business over three decades and have never seen, or thought I’d see, anything like this,” said general manager George Malek.
Malek just brought back about half of his staff amid a soft reopening.
"Every other table is closed for social distancing,” Malek said.
But he’s afraid there may not be room for everyone to return to work everywhere.
"It’s devastating to a lot of people,” Malek said.
According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the Gulf Coast region, including Houston, is where most of the state’s jobless claims were filed last month. Sixty-six percent of those claims were tied to the full-service restaurant industry.
That far outpaced all other sectors.
Houston-based Pappas Restaurants, which owns 63 locations under various names, reportedly laid off more than 6,300 employees alone.
"There are a lot of restaurant workers," said University of Houston economics professor Dietrich Vollrath. "The service industry in general is huge.”
Vollrath said businesses are making modifications if they survive at all.
And he agreed with new data by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggesting 42 percent of laid off workers might not return to the jobs they had.
"You know, people aren’t going to flood back into these businesses just because we’ve changed some rules," Vollrath said. "Until people feel safe, and feel safe being out in crowds, they’re not going to return to certain activities.”
Malek said he's trying to remain optimistic.
"And my hope is that, you know, at least by the end of summer, things will start to return back to normal,” Malek said.