Bar owners optimistic business will return under Abbott’s new executive order

Wednesday night is steak night at Mel’s Place on Houston’s northside.

Mel’s Place hasn’t always served food. Last November, owner Pam Hillhouse was able to re-open her bar by filing for a food and beverage license. Hillhouse said that hasn’t been enough to make up for lost revenue after Governor Greg Abbott forced bars and nightclubs to close last June due to COVID-19.

Hillhouse is among the struggling Texas business owners who are optimistic that their businesses will bounce back after Abbott rescinded the statewide mask order.

“I’ve always been known as a bar so they’d come in and when you tell them they have to purchase the food they get mad and leave,” said Hillhouse about the challenges of attracting customers.

Abbott said on March 10 all of Texas will be fully open for business. Hillhouse is hopeful that her business will return once she’s able to operate at full capacity.

Sandra Young owns Bokeeters Cocktail Bar in New Caney. She said the governor’s reversal to re-open all businesses and drop the statewide mask mandate is a little too late.

“It’s a day late and a dollar short,” said Young. “My heart breaks… I know so many places that have closed.”

Young said her business went from having no debt before the pandemic to racking upwards of $110,000 in loans in a matter of months.

Montgomery County has allowed bars to operate since last October, though Young said she had re-opened two months prior to pay her employees. The Bokeeters bar owner said she refused to switch over to a food and beverage license and kept operating as a bar.

The Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance said their members are thrilled by the governor’s newest order.

“It is long overdue. Our industry has been unfairly punished and penalized for almost a year now,” said TBNA President Michael Klein.

The TBNA had filed several lawsuits in 2020 saying the governor’s executive order at the time was unconstitutional. The alliance lost that federal suit but won its Montgomery County suit.

Klein said 40% of individual bars and nightclubs that were pre-pandemic have not returned.