‘It’s Going to Change the World Forever’

When COVID-19 came to Dallas, safer-at-home orders left restaurants scrambling, and the pandemic may have changed the landscape of dining out in Dallas for a long, long time.

The Texas Restaurant Association estimates that more than 688,000 lost jobs in the restaurant industry, and restaurants lost $80 billion in sales revenue since March. Thirty-four percent of all restaurants in Texas closed.

“What I feel like most people don’t really understand is how fragile that most restaurants run on a daily basis anyway,” said Kent Rathbun, who owns several Dallas establishments, including Imoto and Rathbun Curbside Barbecue, along with Lovers Seafood and Market and Shinsei with wife, Tracy.

“Obviously there are varying degrees of success with all restaurants, but I would say, by and large, most restaurants run on a very tight, tight margin and a bad month or two can really make a big difference in a restaurant,” he explained.

Rathbun has been able to reopen Shinsei and Lovers Seafood but said Imoto would remain shuttered for the time being. Rathbun is also offering barbecue curbside at the Lovers Seafood location. He said thanks to to-go and limited inside dining, business is running at about 50% of normal.

“This is a time if ever there were a time in our life and our career to re-evaluate what we do, how we do it, what is making us happy, what is making us a living, and re-evaluate whether we want to continue doing the things that don’t meet those criteria.” -Kent Rathbun

But what worried Rathbun the most, he said, was how the public was maintaining social distancing – especially since restaurants began opening up just as Dallas County started posting some of the highest new case numbers yet.

“Hey, I’m telling you, I was watching the Today show, and I’m seeing this graph, and there is not even a bend in it,” he said. “No, this thing is straight up. It hasn’t even begun to start the curve. And I’m like, OK, that’s not good.”

Even with the rosiest of scenarios, Rathbun said where and how Dallas dines may continue to shift.

“My crystal ball is out in the shop, but I think, as I’ve said to many people, my biggest struggle right now is just not having the right answer,” Rathbun said. “I just don’t know what to do next because you know, every, every five o’clock on the news, you have to be able to adjust what you’re thinking.

“I think it’s probably going to be longer before things even remotely start to get back to normal. I think that it’s going to change the world forever.”

Rathbun said that the seriousness of the pandemic also has him re-evaluating what comes next.

“I’m not too germaphobic, but right now, I’m definitely making some different choices,” he said. “And I think the thing that I have sort of kind of thrown out there for myself and my wife – and we both agree on this – is that this is a time if ever there were a time in our life and our career to re-evaluate what we do, how we do it, what is making us happy, what is making us a living, and re-evaluate whether we want to continue doing the things that don’t meet those criteria.”


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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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