Amarillo bars weigh benefits of food service as city prepares to reinstate regulations

VIDEO: Amarillo bars weigh benefits of food service as city prepares to reinstate regulations

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - As Texas prepares to reopen after nearly a year of occupancy limitations put in place due to COVID-19, the City of Amarillo plans to reinstate regulations that were loosened to allow bars to serve food during the height of the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, bars were only permitted to open if they qualified as a restaurant, and this meant over half of their sales had to come from food.

To allow more of these businesses to stay open by offering food, the City of Amarillo loosened their regulations.

“If they sold more food than alcohol, they could operate as a restaurant, so we lessened some of our regulations to allow them to do that in the interim,” explained Anthony Spanel, the City of Amarillo’s environmental health director. “Those will absolutely go back into place now that those restrictions are now lifted....but we understand that these bars have added into their menus and added food service intro their operation, so we’ll work with them on an acceptable time period. It’s not going to be like a light switch.”

Prior to the pandemic, Amarillo restaurants were required to have a three compartment sink, mop sink, hand sink, commercial equipment, grease traps and other items.

The city of Amarillo temporarily removed those regulations for some, specifically regulations on commercial equipment such as refrigerators and grease traps so bars could easily transition to restaurant status.

“You have to have a quote commercial kitchen,” said Marco Camp, owner of Lit Arcade Bar.

The bar started serving food during the pandemic to remain open.

“In our situation, we’ve got a grease trap, but the grease trap is behind the bar. If we wanted to, we’d have to install a grease trap in our liquor room, but we’d also have to have a three comp sink back there,” said Camp.

He said he would like to continuing serving food, but adhering to old regulations will make it difficult.

“It’s all dependent on what the city does,” said Camp. “We might (continue) because it’s been a cool thing to offer food. If the city says they’re going to continue to let this go then sure, we’ll keep serving food.”

Spanel explained that these regulations help keep the city’s infrastructure safe.

For instance, if all restaurants didn’t have a grease trap, the city’s sewage pipes would be damaged.

“Essentially, if you’re producing fats oils and greases, when you wash your dishes, those go down the drain,” he explained. “When it gets into the city sewer system those things do collect and coagulate and cause infrastructure problems. It’s easy to mitigate this with a grease trap, but in order to fix the city sewer system (it) would cost millions and millions of dollars.”

However, other bars are working to keep their food service.

Throughout the pandemic, Pondaseta brewing company got creative with their food offerings so they could remain open as a restaurant.

One of the ways they did this was to offer combo meals with each beer purchased.

This expanded their food service and is something they will now permanently offer.

“We’ve started offering combos so every single beer purchase came with a combo so you could add a bowl of chips, salsa or a pint glass,” said Kaleb West, founder and brewer of Pandaseta Brewing Company. “We’ll continue offering combo options. They’ll no longer be required with a beer purchase but if you want to get a pint glass to take home or if you want to get a snack by all means well help you out.”

Many of these combos are in collaboration with food trucks.

Throughout the pandemic, the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission allowed bars to combine alcohol sales with food truck’s food sales to reach restaurant quota.

“TABC allows them to partner with food trucks to help their sales. That was something that was added in during the pandemic. This is likely why you see some of these facilities partnering with food trucks,” said Spanel.

Although a necessity over the past few months, this is something many bars say is here to stay, as it allows them to continue serving food without strict restaurant regulations.

“They actually allowed us (and) helped us to be able to reopen our doors under restaurant guidelines,”said West. “We’re going to be keeping our food truck service and continue to offer food trucks. We’ve kind of been a food truck hub for new food trucks and thing like that to get their feet wet and get started here in the Amarillo market so we’ll continue to keep offering a variety.”

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