During the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic over the summer, tasting room and bar owners were clamoring to stay in business, forming unlikely partnerships that may become the new norm for alcohol dispensaries.
On June 26, Texas Governor Greg Abbott placed a restriction on tasting rooms, bars and clubs, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It called for their closure unless at least 51% of their sales came from food. While some worked to open their own onsite kitchens, others found partnerships with food trucks, which have largely thrived throughout the pandemic. However, since the mandate was again placed into effect amidst the state’s second peak in December, partnerships between food trucks and non-essential alcohol businesses may be the new standard moving forward.
“If this continues, you’re going to see a lot more of these relationships evolve,” Teysha Vineyard owner Joe Zimmerman said. “From a business perspective, there’s a lot of wineries and breweries that may not survive. You have to be creative and nimble with the way you do your business, and you have to be in compliance. Sometimes you have to spend dollars that weren’t budgeted, it’s a struggle for our industry.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Dodge vineyard owner spent what he estimates to be tens of thousands of dollars converting a storage room in the back of the Teysha tasting room into a certified food handling facility. With the help of his wife and employees pitching in to help, their own food menu was created to offset the alcohol sales, and the vineyard was able to re-designate their permit to a restaurant. However, they quickly realized that the work of owning and operating a restaurant was just not for them.
In mid-August, Teysha Vineyards teamed up with Granny Mary’s Cajun-Asian Cuisine under a contract that enabled the Dodge vineyard to close its in-house restaurant and focus solely on their wine. Without the pandemic, it’s not a partnership that Granny Mary’s owner Randy Thompson would have initially thought of to debut his business. However, it has enabled Granny Mary’s to step into an established customer base, rather than starting from scratch on their own.
“It’s a good relationship, and it’s mutually beneficial,” Zimmerman said. “We currently are under the same bar closure provision that we were back in August of last year, so we are able to maintain operations and cash flow through these times, just strictly because of this relationship. There are other options, but we are under contract with Granny Mary’s and it seems to work well for both of us.”
Opening a food truck that blended his New Orleans upbringing and his wife’s Filipino culture had always been on Thompson’s mind. With nothing like it in the area, the veteran and his wife set out to purchase the food trailer in 2018 and finally found their perfect match recently at Teysha Vineyards, where their seasonings pair perfectly with the tannic, bold reds, and their spicier dishes are offset with sweeter wines.
To stay in tune with the seasons, Granny Mary’s menu changes monthly. For the winter, the Thompson’s have added an orange mandarin salad with Cajun shrimp or chicken, as well as a ramen noodle pancit dish made by Thompson’s wife. Roast beef sandwiches and shrimp po’boys will be implemented as lighter options, however, their gumbo, jambalaya egg rolls and coconut shrimp are among their most popular dishes so far.
“We really were looking for something that paired well with certain wines on our menu,” Zimmerman said. “With the Cajun food being spicy and the Asian fusion portion of that, it’s a really good angle of fit for our wine menu.”
Now, dinners and lunches are currently available Fridays through Sundays, and come spring, they look forward to offering a New-Orleans style Sunday brunch on their soon to be expanded outdoor seating area, that is expected to grow their business by 40 to 50%. The addition of another food truck may be in the works for the future to accommodate that growth as well as the rising popularity of the Sam Houston Wine Trail.
Once the pandemic is over, it is unclear as to whether or not the partnership will remain intact, however, as long as it works and both parties are happy, neither partner sees a reason as to why it shouldn’t.