TAKE-OUT ONLY: Heights Taco & Tamale and all other Yellow Rocket restaurants have closed their dining rooms and are only offering food to-go.

Yellow Rocket Concepts, the group that owns nine restaurants in Arkansas and employs some 500, announced today that it was suspending dine-in operations at all of its restaurants: Big Orange Midtown, Big Orange West Little Rock, Big Orange Rogers, Heights Taco & Tamale Co., Local Lime Little Rock, Local Lime Rogers, Lost Forty, ZAZA Little Rock and ZAZA Conway. Instead, it’s offering take-away, curb-side delivery and home delivery soon via BiteSquad.

The restaurant group’s revenue has cratered in recent days. Co-owner John Beachboard said he expected it to be down as much as 80 percent today. But he said he and his partners had made the decision to continue paying their employees through the coronavirus pandemic — even if it bankrupts the company.

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“Sales went down 15 percent and then 20 and then 50 and then 60 percent,” Beachboard said. Lunch business today was almost nil, he said. 

Asked how long Yellow Rocket could afford to pay its workers, Beachboard said, “How long do you go when your business is down 70 percent, and you’re still trying to pay everyone like it’s not? I have no idea what the answer is.”

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President Trump and his coronavirus task force today recommended that states with evidence of community transmission, like Arkansas, close bars, restaurants, gyms and other places where people gather. The federal government stopped short of requiring that they do so, and Little Rock and state officials haven’t called for shut downs, though Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott did encourage residents to get food from restaurants to-go.