Takeout and drive-through may work well for fast food joints and chains, but not so much for locally-owned places that also serve as community hubs. They’re the kind of restaurants perfect for a family meal, brunch, a first date or a work lunch.
In Oak Cliff, two eateries that serve different communities — Oddfellows and El Padrino — are learning to adapt to the shutdown of public life.
It’s not unusual for Oddfellows to have a line out of the door on any given weekend.
“We’re sort of infamous for brunch,” says owner Amy Wallace Cowan. “We tend to run a pretty long wait.”
Cowan and her team have been serving up hip American fare in Bishop Arts for 10 years.
The upscale diner was stocking up for spring break before COVID-19 hit North Texas, “which typically a very busy week for us because families are out,” Cowan says. “People have time to come and linger over pancakes and comfort food.”
But since daily life in Dallas has come to a halt, these typically busy streets have gone silent.
Oddfellows, stuck with a lot of extra product, had to think fast.
“So, we were able to roll a bunch of our employees onto unemployment,” Cowan says. “We have worked with our landlord to go ahead and pre-emptively say we may not be making our April 1st rent payment. And then we actively set to work with the one employee we retained, which is our chef, on how to use the product we had in house.”
Cowan’s team set up wooden stalls stocked with fresh produce, milk, toilet paper, beer and wine outside of the restaurant.
Vince Rowe lives in Kessler Park nearby, and he’s a fan of the makeshift market.
“I’ve been over there just about every morning predominantly to support them because I do not want to see them go away any time soon,” Rowe says.
Just a few blocks away on Jefferson Avenue, another Oak Cliff mainstay is also helping its customers adapt to its sudden closure.
Juan Contreras helps run his family’s taqueria, El Padrino.
The small shop, painted bright blue and orange, has long been a staple for the neighborhood’s older Mexican residents.
“It’s usually folks who are retired who have been loyal customers with us for a very long time,” Contreras says. “They come in for their coffee and pan dulce.”
Contreras says many of them, unaware of the news, didn’t understand why the restaurant was only taking orders for pick-up.
“So, a lot of them thought we were just being rude and we did not want to have them sit inside,” Contreras says. “Took us a little bit to explain to them, ‘Well this is what’s happening and this is why we have been restricted.’ So, that was a struggle.”
The vast majority of their customers dine in, so El Padrino has been hit hard by these restrictions.
“I guess when they think about to-go or takeout, they don’t automatically think about that restaurant that they love to go sitting at for a dine-in experience,” he says.
Contreras has started a GoFundMe page to shore up costs and help wait staff.
“Because a lot of the waitresses that we have are heavily dependent on tipped wage,” he says. “So, that was the thought process on that. To supplement the income lost for them.”
Over at Oddfellows, Cowan has also drummed up support for her staff.
Despite the cuts it’s had to make, the restaurant has kept supplying family meals, the group meal restaurants traditionally provide to staff for free.
“So, people stepped up,” Cowan says. “They gave money, so that we’re able to stretch. Now we’re feeding our neighboring businesses as well as our own employees meals to-go that they can pick up once a day.”
Cowan says it’s hard to say how long Oddfellows can weather this storm.
Other restaurants in the Bishop Arts District have already announced temporary closures, but Oddfellows has chosen to keep up with a situation that seems to change nearly every day.
“It’s the tenants that were already struggling,” she says. “Now, they have to overcome this as well. I really wonder about our neighbors and their stability and how that will actually change what’s happening in and around our immediate community.”
El Padrino has been in business for 30 long years. This shutdown has the potential to make it their last.
“Without, like, shutting down completely, I would say we could probably last about three months,” Contreras says.
Both businesses — as well as restaurants across Dallas — are looking to local customers to help them stay afloat during these uncertain times.
“Maybe the only bright spot is that you’ve always enjoyed Oddfellows or you’ve had a great time at Reveler’s Hall or shopping and dining in Bishop Arts, but now maybe you have a little bit more of an idea of who’s behind those,” Cowan says. “You’ve got names and faces and real life stories that make those places come to life.”
The challenge now is keeping them alive.