COVID-19 CoverageFeatures

How has COVID-19 Affected Houston’s Pro-LGBTQ Business Owners?

Local employers share their experiences during the pandemic.

Between a stay-at-home order in place, and the closure of non-essential services, Houston’s local businesses were hit hard in April. How has this affected the industry? We asked some of our top business owners that question, and then asked how they’ve been keeping busy while confined to their homes. Here are their insightful answers:

Julie Mabry

Owner of Pearl Bar Houston 

I’m quarantining at home with my two cats, like a real lesbian.  

Keeping busy has been a challenge. My initial reaction was to become paralyzed. At first, I was very worried about Pearl. But I’ve just been trying to get out of bed and not watch the news so much. I go outside, and occasionally drive by to check on the bar.

I’ve been binge-watching Gold Rush, Shahs of Sunset, and Summer House. Basically anything that is on Bravo helps take me out of reality. Since I work in the bar industry, my life is similar to a reality show. I like watching shows with a different type of chaos [than the chaos of running a bar]—they make me feel normal. 

I recommend Headspace, an app for meditation. I didn’t sleep a lot the first few weeks [of the pandemic]. I used Headspace a bit to help. 

Even though Pearl is closed, there are still business aspects that I have to maintain, like paying bills and analyzing the future of the bar. My main concern is making sure that the staff has money to live off of. As service-industry workers, they depend on their tips. 

When the stay-at-home order began, we tried to be sure the bar was locked down and prepared to be closed for a while. We also ran a virtual tip jar for our staff. If you’d like to virtually tip the staff, their Venmo handles are @Paige-Pitonyak, @Alyssa-DeWitt-8, @Ashley-Paz-21, @Kayla-Curran-5, and @Jose-Soliz-4.

A fundraiser I’d like to give a shoutout to was organized by Joanna Jackson for George Country Sports Bar and Barnaby’s Fairview. The service industry is really suffering, and I don’t think a lot of people realize what those workers are going through. It’s especially important to help the LGBTQ service industry, so to see that fundraiser meant a lot. 

Houston’s LGBTQ community has been through a lot, but we’re familiar with perseverance. That is what keeps me going. I know we’re going to get through this together. 

Follow Pearl Bar on Facebook at and Instagram @pearlbarhouston.


Dennis “Woodja” Flanigan

Licensed Psychologist

I’m quarantining at home in Montrose with my boyfriend. 

I’ve kept busy by continuing to work full-time. I’m seeing my clients through the Internet, as opposed to in person. My boyfriend and I are also catching up on the TV shows that we haven’t watched in four years. We’re binge-watching Grace and Frankie. It takes us about a week to get through a season. The show is funny, well acted, and sometimes stupid—but mostly funny.

Working from home has not been much different than working at my office. While I am not able to interact with my clients in person, we are able to see each other through the Internet. 

I’m set up in my home office, while my boyfriend is working at our dining-room table. We can’t work in the same place because of the confidentiality of my work.    

Something I’ve learned from this experience is that I do better cooped up than I would have imagined.

We’ve been ordering in from a number of local restaurants like Barnaby’s, General Joe’s, Auntie Chang’s, and Pronto. We want to keep their businesses open so we can go back to them once this is all over.

Learn more about Dennis “Woudja” Flanigan at


Lynette Hawkins

Restaurateur and chef, giacomo’s cibo e vino

I’m quarantining in the Montrose/Museum District with my two dogs and three cats. 

I’ve been binge watching BritBox shows. I’m a super-fan of British crime dramas. I’ve watched every season of Midsomer Murders. The episodes are witty and wonderful. They’re set in this idyllic country setting. I got hooked on them when the show was on PBS, and now it’s available on Prime Video.  

Following Harris County’s order to close bars and dining rooms, Giacomo’s closed for one month. During that time, I came into the restaurant every day to do things like clean and type up recipes. This made me feel productive. Now we’re back open for takeout during the evenings. I’m grateful for the customers who have ordered from us.

That experience taught me that I need the structure that work provides. The responsibility makes me work more efficiently. During the month we closed, I did not tackle the stacks of books I wanted to read, study Italian, or do much gardening. I feel much more productive when I have things I must do. 

A book I recommend is How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery. It was the perfect book to read while I felt down about the pandemic. It’s a good read, and it’s heartwarming. It will give you a new appreciation of all the animals that are out there. 

I’d like to give a shout-out to the resource organization I’ll Have What She’s Having, for all of the work it’s doing for women in the food service industry.

Learn more about Giacomo’s cibo e vino at Follow the restaurant on Instagram @giacomoshouston.


Greg Ramos

Owner of Hamburger Mary’s Houston

I’m quarantining with my husband, Tony, who is an essential worker as well. When we are not at work, we mostly stick together, watch movies, and eat!

I’ve been binge-watching Gentefied. It’s my favorite right now. I also binge-watch all reality shows, from Real Housewives to Love & Hip Hop. Those shows take me out of reality. [Laughs

I’ve kept busy while social-distancing at work. Hamburger Mary’s has pretty much taken over my life, and while I’m working, I hug no one. Something anyone will tell you, from my family to my customers, is that I normally would greet and hug almost everyone.

I live, eat, and breathe Hamburger Mary’s. If you order takeout, I recommend the Handbag Sampler with french fries, onion rings, chicken tenders, wings, fried pickles, and fried mac & cheese balls. I also recommend any hamburger. It’s in our name, so it must be good. 

Something I’ve learned during this experience is how much time I spend working [rather than] bonding with my entire family. I’ve also learned how much my husband does for me, because it’s hard to eat without his opinion. [Laughs]

I’m extremely proud of the drag queens who are making masks for everyone. Some even stand in fabric-store lines for hours, just to go home and sew for more hours. I’m also proud of the charities feeding hundreds of people, and the restaurants who are feeding first responders and healthcare workers. All of the local businesses are giving it their all.  

Learn more about Hamburger Mary’s Houston at Follow the restaurant on Instagram @hamburgermarys.houston.


Doug Smith

CEO of Hawthorne Funds

I’m quarantining with my fiancé, Happy Lee. We are holed up in our bungalow between River Oaks and Montrose. When we’re feeling really adventurous, we go for a walk.

Oddly enough, Hawthorne Funds has been busier than ever. My private-equity firm buys and sells rural Texas land, so I spend my days on the phone and computer handling everything related to that. In my free time, I chat with friends over Zoom, watch movies with the boo, or work out on my Bowflex. I was lucky enough to find it on Facebook Marketplace right as my double chin started to come in.

We’ve been doing our best to support local LGBTQ-friendly establishments, such as Riva’s Italian Restaurant, Rainbow Lodge, Hamburger Mary’s, Urban Eats, and Barnaby’s. David Alcorta Catering is also a great option. I’m trying to stay healthy, so my go-to meal usually consists of grilled chicken and some greens, but I’ve been known to carb-load at times. 

I’ve learned that my calling is organizing everything in my house and on my computer. A career-assessment test in high school suggested that I become a secretary. I called B.S. at the time (to seem cool, of course), but now those results seem to have been spot-on. These days I gladly admit that, as being cool requires far too much effort.

We watch RuPaul’s Drag Race on the reg. We wouldn’t want to lose our gay cards, after all. And for a while, we couldn’t get enough of Tiger King, the Netflix documentary about “that biatch Carole Baskin” (for all who weren’t aware). Throw in a little 90 Day Fiancé and a dash of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and we’re two happy twinks. (Oh wait, I slightly recall aging out of that category. Guess I’m not my own type anymore.)

I fit podcasts into my schedule whenever I can, and have really enjoyed 99% Invisible, Adam Ruins Everything, Guys We F**kd, and How I Built This. Looped In is also a good one for keeping up with the local real-estate happenings. As for movies, I’ve reached deep into the vault and dusted off some goodies like The Greatest Showman, Zoolander, Wedding Crashers, Doubt, and yes, even The Bodyguard. And what quarantine would be complete without the movie that perfectly epitomizes our lives these days—Groundhog Day?

I can’t speak highly enough of Kennedy Lofton and the team at the Montrose Center. They continue to do great work in supporting the most vulnerable of the already vulnerable LGBTQ+ community. Donating to their COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund is a great way to help out. Contributions go toward emergency financial assistance, housing for LGBTQ+ homeless youth and violence survivors, shelf-stable food for LGBTQ+ seniors, and more. We need to band together to help each other, now more than ever.

Learn more about Hawthorne Funds at Contact Doug Smith at [email protected].


Dr. Roy Rivera

CEO of Crom Rehabilitation

 I am in a “modified” quarantine status. I am a resident of the Heights and currently only travel between work, home, and the grocery store. I am a single father and have a pre-teen daughter who is quarantining back home in the Rio Grande Valley with my parents. Because I am actively working and seeing patients, I wanted to limit her exposure to the virus. 

Work has been keeping me very busy, but I have felt the tremendous impact of being a small-business owner and weathering this economic storm. I decided early on that I was going to try my hardest not to let my employees down by cultivating new ways of doing business. The staff is my family. I had to make some difficult decisions early on, but it has all worked out for the best. I initially managed to keep all employees on the schedule with reduced hours so that everyone was taking home a paycheck and providing for their individual families. At the same time, I was diligently working with my financial institution to secure emergency funding for my practice. The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program has allowed me to retain my entire staff, pay them their full salaries, and keep my clinic doors open during this pandemic. 

I am an alumnus of the Houston-based Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, and they have provided channels for me to network with financial institutions for access to emergency capital. They continue to provide webinars and ongoing business support services, as government regulations are constantly changing. I would be honored to speak to anyone about my experience in their program.

Physical therapists are essential in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the experts. They play a key role in keeping patients out of doctor’s offices and ERs. 

My favorite restaurant to order takeout from is Barnaby’s Cafe on White Oak. My go-to meal is the grilled chicken breast with rice, broccoli, and a side of bullseye sauce. 

This experience has taught me that I am a lot more resourceful than I thought. My staff and I got creative and made some DIY sanitizer using the CDC’s formula. We created a lavender hand sanitizer that patients love, and they even ask us where we purchased it!

I’m binge-watching a show I discovered on A&E called 60 Days In. The premise of the show is seven people volunteer to go undercover as prisoners into various jail systems in the U.S. with false charges and fake identities. They are trying to report back on gang activity, drugs, and corruption. There are currently six seasons, and I am hooked!

Learn more about Crom Rehabilitation at Follow the business on Facebook @CromRehab and Instagram @crom_rehab


Dr. Kristie Kyle

Owner and Veterinarian, Bayou City Veterinary Hospital 

Veterinary medicine is considered essential, so I, my co-owner Dr. Brenda Flores, our associate veterinarians, and our staff are all working six days a week. We spend our evenings at home with our families. At home, my wife and son and I spend our evenings and weekends together, while my wife and son tackle work-from-home and school-from-home together during the week. 

Work keeps me and my wife busy. My son’s days are occupied with his schoolwork. But in the evenings, we’ve been watching movies together, playing social-distance bingo with our neighbors, riding our bikes together, and training our new dogs. 

As veterinarians and members of Houston’s public-health team, we have a great responsibility to continue to provide care for our pets—as well as accurate answers to all sorts of questions about the impact of animal health on humans and human health. In order to do that, we have set up a system that enables us to bring animals into our facility safely while allowing pet owners to remain in their cars during their pet’s visit with us. We are masked and gloved, and using reusable caps, masks, and gowns throughout the day. Our days are definitely quieter and a little more lonely without being able to talk with our clients face-to-face, but we are able to keep ourselves a little safer by reducing our contact effectively. 

We continue to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on animal health. Although some animals (cats especially) are able to contract COVID-19 from infected humans, the animals themselves do not appear to get severely ill with this virus. Additionally, animals do not appear to play a large role in the transmission of COVID-19. We are continuing to monitor this information, watching in real time for updates from across the globe. 

I think we’ve all learned how strong and resilient we are as individuals and as a larger Houston community. We’ve been quick to adapt to social-distance requirements, and check in with neighbors and friends who might need more help. We are going to take care of each other by giving each other space, and we are going to be able to do that with bravery and persistence until we are all safe again. 

We’ve been satisfying our Tex-Mex cravings with Studewood Cantine, and it’s great! We also got pizzas from Dolce Vita last week; they never disappoint!

My favorite podcast right now is Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. His co-host, Monica Padman, just did a tremendous mini-podcast called “Monica and Jess Love Boys.” It is one of the most vulnerable and hilarious investigations into love and relationships that I’ve heard. It’s amazing!

Learn more about Bayou City Veterinary Hospital at Follow the hospital on Facebook @bayoucityveterinaryhospital.


Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is the managing editor of OutSmart magazine.
Back to top button