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Austin Embraces Local Landmark Juan In A Million, Even Without The Trademark Handshake

Relying on love from locals to make delivery a lifeline during the pandemic.

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Christina Kim is media relations manager at Ausin’s Juan in a Million, as well as being the daughter of founders Juan and Myrna Meza.

The industry has been hit absolutely hard. Our staff, we’ve had to reduce their hours. People are taking different shifts. Before they’d come in and wait tables, and now they’re taking orders over the phone. We’ve been asked to shut our doors until May 1st. Even then, it’s uncertain that will be the right time to open again.

Our restaurants are places to socialize and get that famous Juan in a Million handshake from my dad. In the early stages of the pandemic, and people started to not go out to restaurants, my dad said, “Oh, my God, am I going to have to stop shaking people’s hands? Maybe I just have to bow? Am I going to be doing an elbow bump?” Even then, he was like, “It’s already changing how I socialize with my customers.”

We have supported the community of all these years. And we’ve been very lucky that the community is continuing to support us during this time. We’re not set up like other restaurants. We don’t have a drive-through. It’s old-fashioned orders where you pick up the phone. We’ve kind of shied away from delivery services and apps, but they’ve been fantastic helping us at this time.

Before all this, mainly we’ve just done people dining in. We’re so close to downtown. We’re very lucky that a lot of people that work at the university, that work at the capital—we’ve gotten all kinds of local businesses that come in for lunch. That’s usually the bread and butter of the business, people walking in for their lunch hour. We dabbled in delivery last year, and it was just not something suitable for our business. It wasn’t how we operated, but now we’re very grateful for them being available. Had this happened before any delivery services existed, we would be completely crushed.

Photo: Courtesy Juan in a Million.

Our prices remain the same, and we’re very, very grateful that we’re a type of restaurant that offers quality food at an affordable price. We’ve never been one to turn a high profit off some of our menu items. So when the last recession hit, we actually fared pretty well because we were affordable. People that lost their jobs or people that were on a tighter budget could still afford to eat at our place. We’re hoping that that’s still the case this time around.

We’re confident our doors will still be able to stay open. Hopefully we can weather this storm. With the strategies we’ve taken in terms of reducing the hours, the employees taking different shifts, and really helping each other out that way, that we’ll be able to weather the storm. And we pray that we’re able to open our doors by the time our 40th anniversary hits in July.

There have been so many customers that have been with us for years, and they continue to come back. They said, we want to help you, we want to support you. One longtime customer is a former football player at the University of Texas, Michael Huff. He’s a coach at the school now. He walked in our doors two days after the governor shut down all the restaurants and he said, “I want to pre-pay for 200 meals here. I want to keep your doors open. I want to make sure you guys survive this.” For one day he picked out, he said “Anybody that wants to come to Juan in a Million is going to get a meal on me.” People like that, longtime customers, have really touched us and have come forward to support us. It was awesome. We really needed it.

We’ve had waiters and waitresses that have been with us for over 25 years. We have an amazing captain on our boat, my dad. And my mom’s been there, too. I feel like with this team, this boat won’t sink. Their strength and resilience through this, and their positive attitude, has really helped the employees see we can weather the storm. We can get through this.They’re family to us, and we’re sticking through this. We are gonna make it.