Food & Drink

The State Of Texas Threatens Two Austin Restaurants For Requiring Proof Of Vaccination

New American restaurant Launderette and its sibling spot Fresa’s had briefly been requiring proof of at least partial vaccination to dine inside the businesses since Monday, August 9, in spite of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s blanket order banning any sort of coronavirus safety measures throughout the state.

But now, three days later, the two restaurants were forced to cancel these proof of vaccine policies after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) threatened to pull their liquor licenses.

This is all happening as the delta variant of the coronavirus rampages through Texas, which has prompted Austin officials to escalate the city’s safety directives into the highest level of safety restriction recommendations in order to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus on August 5. During the press conference announcing the guidance, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes asked businesses to require customers to show proof of vaccination in order to patronize their businesses. A media contact for the city acknowledged that they also advised restaurants to talk to their lawyers to make sure they’re able to require that policy.

Four days later, Launderette and Fresa’s became the first two restaurants in the city to require proof of at least partial vaccination in order to dine indoors. Guests at the restaurants would also have to wear masks when not seated at tables. The two rules didn’t apply to guests on the patio. Eater reached out to the team behind the restaurants — co-owners chef Rene Ortiz, pastry chef Laura Sawicki, Margaret Vera, and Tracy Overath — for further comment, but they declined.

Just a couple of days later, the restaurant team was informed by the TABC that they were not allowed to require vaccination proof because doing so went against the Senate bill that passed in June, which states:

A business in this state may not require a customer to provide any documentation certifying the customer’s COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery on entry to, to gain access to, or to receive service from the business.

To ensure Texas businesses follow that rule, “each appropriate state agency” — in Launderette and Fresa’s case, the TABC — “will ensure businesses in this state comply,” according to the bill. These agencies can “require compliance […] as a condition for a license, permit, or other state authorization necessary for conducting business in this state.” That means the TABC could pull liquor licenses for restaurants and bars that attempt to require proof of vaccinations in order to dine or drink at their establishments.

A representative for the TABC told Eater that, “while the agency has not taken formal action against any businesses to date, we have requested to meet with representatives of businesses where potential noncompliance could be taking place.” They added: “Our goal is to educate and inform, rather than penalize, these businesses. TABC will continue to coordinate with business owners and trade groups across the state to ensure the alcoholic beverage industry is fully aware of the new requirements.” ​​This policy was reiterated on TACB’s website on August 11.

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