How area restaurants are responding

Houston’s boil water notice forced restaurants and bars to scramble Sunday evening as business owners toiled over whether to open or close on Monday.

Some decided to pause service until the water issue is resolved, while a majority of restaurants decided to take a we’re-open-but-taking-precautions approach.

For many, shutting down for one day is too much of a financial risk — even if it’s on a Monday, which is traditionally slower.

“This is the last thing a restaurant operator needs right now,” said Rafael Nasr, who recently opened a second location for his Craft Pita in West University. “I have a brand new restaurant. I can’t afford to close.”

Like many Houstonians, Nasr didn’t hear about the boil water notice until late Sunday as he was scrolling through his Instagram feed.

“I let out a big groan,” said Nasr. “But you have to make a decision pretty quickly. I came up with a plan: buy water, boil water and communicate to my team.”

Nasr said he had already worked a 12-hour day when he headed to Kroger shortly before 8 pm Sunday to buy 160 bottles of water and 20 gallons of distilled water to use at Craft Pita for preparing food and cleaning his kitchens.

His restaurants cater to a large lunch crowd, and closing Monday could have cut to 15 percent of his sales for the week.

“We’re a seven day a week restaurant,” said Nasr. “We want to be a constant reliable for people. When you’re not open, people will go to other places.”

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Ziggy Gruber decided at 4:45 am Monday to keep Kenny & Ziggy’s closed because he figured it was impossible to operate his 11,500-square-foot restaurant, which can seat up to 350 people indoors and outdoors.

It’s also a safety concern for Gruber, who said he didn’t want to take a risk.

“We have a responsibility to our customers,” Gruber said. “I will never put my customers in jeopardy of getting sick.”

Still, Gruber says he’s perplexed over how a reported power outage contributed to the city’s primary water system failing.

He recalls his first reaction: “There’s been no natural disaster. What the hell is going on?”

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Other notable closings include spots such as Julep, one of the top bars in the city.

But an overwhelming number of businesses are staying open.

Agricole, the hospitality group behind such restaurants as Coltivare and Indianola, will keep all its businesses open.

“Agricole is taking every measure possible to mitigate the circumstances,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “We’ve implemented protocols across all of our restaurants and have briefed all staff.”

At Étoile Cuisine et Bar in Uptown Park, co-owner Monica Bui decided to stay open, in part to honor a large reservation.

“I think everyone is just trying to weigh it out,” said Bui. “Everyone is a bit on standby.”

Bui and her husband, Philippe Verpiand, had 400 pounds of ice delivered to the restaurant Monday morning so the bar could continue mixing cocktails and the kitchen could use ice if they needed to blanch vegetables in cold water.

A boil water notice is nothing new for Houston restaurants. Floods, a winter freeze and burst pipes in past years have forced businesses to pivot at the last minute.

“Today is a bigger challenge because it was just so unexpected,” said Melissa Stewart, senior executive director of the Greater Houston Chapter of Texas Restaurant Association. “Everyone was just coming out of a busy holiday weekend. It’s not like you can plan ahead when you know a storm is coming.”

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