An East Texas bar and restaurant owner who is fighting against the governor’s unilateral shutdown orders and arbitrary coronavirus regulations says the experience has convinced her to pay attention to politics—and to vote for President Donald Trump in November.
“I never voted because I didn’t think it mattered,” said Tee Allen, co-owner of the Machine Shed Bar and Grill in Kilgore, at a Trump rally she hosted there last Saturday. “This year, I learned that it matters. It matters if you vote.”
Like thousands of business owners across the state, Allen has been struggling through months of government-mandated shutdowns to stay afloat so she can support her family and her employees.
Allen opened the Machine Shed in early March, just before Gov. Greg Abbott ordered his first statewide lockdown intended to slow the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. She also owns the Roughneck Café in White Oak, which is still closed.
“I saved my money for seven years to open the café,” Allen said at Saturday’s rally, which was as much anti-Abbott as it was pro-Trump. “We purchased [The Machine Shed] in February, and on March 6, we opened. Then, on March 20, we were told we had to close. And we did, just like everybody else.”
Abbott’s unilateral mandates closing down “non-essential” businesses have hit bars and restaurants especially hard. After allowing them to partially reopen, he issued an executive order on June 26 that shuttered bars again and restricted restaurants to 50 percent capacity.
But the rules treat similar food-and-beverage businesses differently: those that generate more than 51 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales are bars that must be closed; less than 51 percent means establishments are restaurants that can stay open.
Facing threats of liquor license suspensions, Allen hosted a “Bar Lives Matter” event on June 28 to raise awareness and support struggling businesses.
She then joined a group of Texas bar owners suing Abbott and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission over their arbitrary rules, which the Texas Restaurant Association estimated had closed over 1,500 restaurants and put 35,000 employees out of work. Allen said Abbott’s order also closed 6,600 Texas bars.
The TABC has since issued a variety of revised guidelines, and Allen and other bar owners have done what they can to comply—including spending $776 for a food and beverage license. But she said the agency still hassles her business.
“I want to run my business, and I want to pay my own way,” Allen said Saturday:
“When people say we’re not essential … this isn’t about a bar, this is about humans who work in this bar industry. … This is about human lives, and it’s my responsibility to make sure my family gets a paycheck. So, it is essential.
“We’re struggling, but you know what we’re not going to do? We’re not going to quit.”
“Before this shutdown, I was 100 percent liberal on everything but abortion,” Allen said. “And then I started paying attention, and I started doing my research. … I started researching what [Trump] has done for our country and realized I’m on the wrong side of this.”
Allen said she wants to reach other people who think their votes don’t matter:
“I know this is just a little honky-tonk biker bar, but it’s my bar. I worked for this, and if we don’t vote in the right candidate for another four years, the Democrats are going to take my bar away from me, and everybody else’s business. You think it’s going to be just bars? It’s going to be everything.
“We can either sit in our houses, or … we can fight. So, that’s what we’re going to do.
“I encourage you go out and vote. Stand your ground. Stop letting people take things from you that you worked for.”
“What we’re going to do today is say Trump needs to be voted in,” she added.
“I’m fighting, just like I fight for Trump and for our country, just like Tee does,” said Tina Bryan, a friend of Allen’s who spoke at the rally.
Bryan is a local restaurant owner struggling to keep her business going while battling cancer. She said her Stage 4 ovarian cancer surgery was considered elective due to COVID restrictions and delayed two months.
“A lot of people think they have to be something special to have something to say, but you don’t,” Bryan told the crowd. “All you have to do is use your voice. Because if we make the wrong decision this election, we could lose our country.”
“Talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to your co-workers, and let them know … this does affect them. This affects everyone,” she said. “Everybody has a voice. Let’s use it and do the right thing and make the right decision this November: Trump 2020.”
State Sen. Bob Hall and Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West also spoke at the pro-Trump rally, as did conservative grassroots activists Brian Bledsoe, host of TrendChat, and State Republican Executive Committeeman Abraham George.
“We need to make sure we are voting for people that respect your rights,” West said, “from President Trump all the way down the ballot.”
“No elected official has an enumerated power to say who is essential,” he added. “Every single one of us is essential.”
Since March 13, Abbott has used emergency powers to issue 22 executive orders under his coronavirus disaster declarations. It has been months, however, since Abbott has issued any order reopening businesses.
Over a week ago, Abbott tweeted to a restaurant owner begging him to lift restrictions on struggling businesses, “I hope to provide updates next week about next steps.”
I said last month that Texas wouldn’t have anymore lockdowns—despite demands from mayors & county judges insisting on lockdowns.
Since my last orders in July, Covid numbers have declined—most importantly hospitalizations.
I hope to provide updates next week about next steps. https://t.co/EmmankcMMO
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) September 1, 2020
As of Friday afternoon, the governor has yet to announce any new plans for reopening Texas.
In the meantime, Allen is planning another Trump rally.