Normally, the dining room at El Ranchito Mexican restaurant in Seguin is packed at lunchtime on a Wednesday.

Normally, it’s busy serving endless trays of enchiladas to workers on their lunch breaks; it’s serving piping hot bowls of queso to customers who come from as far as San Antonio to get their taco fix.

But Wednesday, March 9, was quiet. The dining room sat empty, save for a handful of employees and a few loyal customers who trickled in an out to pick up to-go orders.

El Ranchito was one of 4,300 businesses and homes to be affected by a citywide gas outage that started Tuesday and affected all natural gas customers in the cities of Seguin and McQueeney. The outage forced some businesses to shutter completely, while some remained open with limited menus and service.

A single table of patrons is all there is at El Ranchito in Seguin on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. Normally, the business is full during lunch hour. The city of Seguin is dealing with a natural gas outage that could last for days.

Kin Man Hui / Staff photographer

Even the local school district was unable to serve hot meals to students or keep its buildings heated. Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez said student meals would be cold and buildings would not be heated. He encouraged parents to send their children with their own food for the rest of the week.

“Send your kids to school with layers, bundle up, keep warm,” he said in a video message posted Tuesday night, adding that microwave usage would be limited.

El Ranchito owner Robby De La Garza managed to keep his restaurant open, serving only to-go orders with a limited 12-item menu that he could prepare thanks to a propane-fueled food truck in his parking lot.

But Wednesday afternoon, he looked longingly at his empty dining room, wondering when the gas would be turned back on.

“I don’t like it. I like having this place open, full and busy, so this is very unusual and it doesn’t sit well, ”he said. “But I have to remind myself that this is temporary.”

El Ranchito's Robby De La Garza cooks food in his food truck, which uses propane gas, as the city of Seguin deals with a natural gas outage that could last for days.

El Ranchito’s Robby De La Garza cooks food in his food truck, which uses propane gas, as the city of Seguin deals with a natural gas outage that could last for days.

Kin Man Hui / Staff photographer

Gas restored by Friday

Houston-based energy company CenterPoint Energy said the gas outage is a result of damage to another company’s pipeline, which serves Seguin and McQueeney. The pipeline was damaged about mid-day Tuesday.

Tal Centers, vice president of Texas Gas at CenterPoint Energy, said in a news release Wednesday that pipeline repairs had been “finalized” and most natural gas customers could expect their gas to be restored by Friday.

“More than 300 company employees, contractors and mutual assistance crews have been called to help expedite the restoration process,” Centers said in the news release.

But the promise of gas restoration was little comfort to citizens unable to heat their homes or cook for their families.

Susan Dyess, a loyal customer of El Ranchito, stopped in Wednesday to pick up a to-go order. She said she and her husband were worried about their Aunt Alice, a 96-year-old woman who lives by herself in Seguin.

El Ranchito employees Stephanie Eppright (from right), Julian De La Garza and Norma Davila prepare meals using improved methods like an electric crockpot to warm up cheese Wednesday, Mar.  9, 2022.

El Ranchito employees Stephanie Eppright (from right), Julian De La Garza and Norma Davila prepare meals using improved methods like an electric crockpot to warm up cheese Wednesday, Mar. 9, 2022.

Kin Man Hui / Staff photographer

“My husband went and brought her a few electric heaters for her house this morning,” Dyess said, adding that Aunt Alice declined their invitations to stay with them or go to the city’s shelter.

Seguin opened a shelter at Hillcrest Church on Tuesday, but it closed it down Wednesday due to a “lack of turnout.” They then re-opened it after “evaluating the future needs of the community,” the city posted on its Facebook page.

Even with chilly nighttime temperatures, which dipped into the high 30s on Tuesday night, sunny skies were the saving grace for many people who were unable to rely on gas-powered heat.

Elise Tocquigny, owner of the Green Gate Garden Center in Seguin, relies on gas-powered heaters to keep her 50 greenhouses warm at night.

“Things are going to die if they get too cold,” she said, adding that she had installed electric heaters in some of her greenhouses to keep her tropical plants warm.

But the sunny skies Tuesday and Wednesday kept her greenhouses nice and toasty, and a CenterPoint gas employee was on her property Wednesday morning, working to restore gas.

“It’s concerning, but there’s nothing you can do about it except wait until it turns back on,” she said.

A sign at a laundromat in Seguin tells customers that it has no gas to run the dryers.  The city of Seguin is dealing with a natural gas outage that could last for days.

A sign at a laundromat in Seguin tells customers that it has no gas to run the dryers. The city of Seguin is dealing with a natural gas outage that could last for days.

Kin Man Hui / Staff photographer

Team efforts

Despite the restaurants and businesses that struggled or even had to close, others that don’t rely fully on gas were seeing major profits Wednesday.

Adrian Davila, owner of Davila’s BBQ in Seguin, said he has been able to remain open since he mostly uses wood-burning stoves. He said his business had quadrupled since the gas outage began Tuesday, and he was doing so much business that he had to shut down his drive-thru.

“Tuesday is typically our slowest day of the week, but by 11:15 am (Tuesday) it was maxed out,” he said. “We could never come up for air.”

Davila has to keep some things off the menu, like potatoes and macaroni and cheese, since they’re cooked on a gas-fueled stove.

But he’s making do, thanks partly to a propane-powered food truck parked next to his restaurant.

Davila is using his surge in business to help out other local businesses, like El Ranchito. Davila recently purchased another food truck from De La Garza, the El Ranchito owner, but loaned it back to him amid the outage so that De La Garza could cook his limited menu out of the truck.

“When it comes to things like this, and it’s that sparse of a situation, you damn well better be able to work with one another,” Davila said.

Annie Blanks writes for the Express-News through Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. ReportforAmerica.org. annie.blanks@express-news.net.

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.