Photo courtesy of Dr. Cummings
After much anticipation and extensive renovations, Big O’s Simply Delicious is coming back with new big changes including an aquaponics wall and a focus on providing a safe restaurant experience. Their grand reopening is scheduled for Sept. 21.
Big O’s has been a Stephenville staple for 13 years and counting. Sherry and Oliver Weir started their restaurant at a location downtown and are currently located in a larger space across from Tarleton State University at 1350 West Washington #1150.
Big O’s closed on March 26 when Erath County activated the shelter-in-place order in response to COVID-19. They reopened for a short time in May once they were able to maintain six feet of distance for dine-in customers. But with surging cases across Texas and Erath County they decided to close their doors again on June 26.
“COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire and we must do what we can to stop the spread. We care and love each and every one of you, your support over the years touch our hearts every day and we are as we are sure you are as well frightened of what is going on around us,” Big O’s post on their Facebook page said.
Closing for any reason is a very difficult financial and emotional decision for a small business owner to make. Big O’s owners opted to close completely rather than offer to-go service. Despite the economic impact, the Weir’s felt closing was the right option for them as they felt “the risk was too great” to themselves, their employees and the community. However, they have used the downtime to implement their long planned renovations and, given current safety concerns, have completely revamped their restaurant. The goal for the renovation was to create the safest restaurant environment they possibly could.
COVID-19 concerns have impacted many businesses but issues for restaurants are ten-fold. Health of employees and customers, constantly changing guidelines from state and local authorities, contact-less food service and tables capacity are just some of the logistical issues. In addition, the financial viability of restaurants is often on the margins at best. The number of customers needed to survive is directly tied to the number of seats filled. At this time the State of Texas is allowing restaurants to operate at 50% of stated occupancy which significantly decreases the risk of virus transmission but could also mean more than a 50% drop in revenue.
For restaurants in particular the issues regarding the transmission methods of COVID-19 pose huge challenges. According to the CDC, it is currently understood that COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It is thought the virus may also spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. The many unknowns regarding the virus transmission makes safe food service a daunting task for a responsible restaurant owner.
To help provide a safe environment the Texas Department of Health and Safety is providing restaurant owners with extensive information on safety measures and employee training protocols.
In addition to COVID-19 related renovations, the Weirs wanted to create a “garden oasis” atmosphere for their customers and employees. They collaborated with Tarleton to implement green spaces between the seating areas providing fresher air so customers feel safer dining in the restaurant. The renovation also included changing the flooring, adding seating partitions, and a bathroom addition, was done to maximize safety and minimize the transmission of COVID-19. The Weirs did much of the renovations themselves including building the new tables and seating. The renovations took longer than the anticipated six to eight weeks and the re-opening date has been postponed several times.
To help with the renovations costs and support their employees while closed, Big O’s created a GoFundMe page which has received good community support and continues to stay open for donations. The donations to date have met about one third of their goal.
Always known for its fresh food, with a focus on sustainability, Big O’s will now grow some of its produce on an aquaponics wall. This unique feature was created with the help from Dr. Hennen Cummings of the Tarleton Agriculture Department. “This [aquaponic] system has six 4 inch PVC pipes that are each 11 feet long. This system is on the east window [of the restaurant] and will grow about 60 butterhead lettuce,” Cummings said.
The system Cummings built for Big O’s is a hybrid of aquaponics and hydroponics systems. Cummings is in charge of the Tarleton Hydrotron which is located on the Tarleton Farm. The Tarleton Hydrotron is a greenhouse that includes an aquaponics system and several hydroponics systems. Tarleton offers a course in aquaponics taught by Cummings. In this course students gain hands-on practical experience on how to maintain and improve the types of systems inside the Tarleton Hydrotron.
The Weirs are very excited to share the new and safe atmosphere they have created at Big O’s and look forward to many more years of serving fresh nutritious food to the Tarleton and Stephenville community.
Big O’s menu will remain the same as before. Focusing on soups, salads, gyros and sandwiches, they also offer a variety of in-house made crepes, sweets and cookies which are baked fresh daily. Known for their unique “handmade” menu options, Big O’s has consistently received rave reviews and has received the “Best of Erath County” award.
In addition to offering the community good fresh food, Oliver Weir especially enjoys the customer interaction, knows most of his customers by name and is always willing to chat. The Weirs hope prior customers and new ones will come enjoy the safer and greener Big O’s.
If interested in donating to their renovation, donors can visit their GoFund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/big-o039s-simply-delicious-covid-renovation.