If 2020 and 2021 were not difficult enough for businesses with their myriad of issues including the pandemic, border woes and the winter storm, another city-wide boil water notice set to last over a week has added to that list of issues business owners must overcome.

For many local businesses whose primary offerings are beverages, safe water is vital to daily operations for them and all other food and drink establishments. Thus even if the notice is lifted on its current target date of Monday, nine days without water makes a major impact. The city suffered a similar situation in 2019 which lasted 11 days.

According to Dosis Coffee owner Billy Hrncir, the locally-owned coffee shop roasts its own coffee and focuses on traditional espresso-based drinks. It opened approximately a year ago in a mobile bus before moving to a brick-and-mortar store.

Regarding the boil water notice, Hrncir said the shop had operated using bottled water when in the bus phase of the business, which gave them a better understanding of what to do during this notice. However, being in a bigger establishment now meant they were now connected to the city water supply and would be required to find a new water source.

“The chances of any cross-contamination serving a hot beverage is going to be much smaller, but it’s definitely not something we wanted to risk regardless,” he said. “We obviously had to ditch kind of the more traditional brew methods.”

With the added time of boiling water before brewing the coffee, Hrncir said it wouldn’t allow the shop to provide the same quick service as a normal day. This is also considering the espresso machine, as while it is hot, it reaches just 206 degrees — just shy of the boiling water temperature of 212.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t putting our customers in harms way of any kind, and so we decided to stick with our cold brew,” Hrncir said.

Traveling to water stations for ice and water in Cotulla, the shop’s cold brew was brewed over a span of 12 hours. He explained that as other forms of coffee have an espresso base and brew in hot water, they cannot be made with water during the boil notice. But as cold brew has a longer extraction period in cold water, finding clean water and brewing it over a day allows them to keep employees working and provide the service.

“We drove to Cotulla to pick up ice and water bottles, and we had to drive back and then put a batch to brew. And then when you get there in the morning, you pull that batch that has brewed overnight and then put a new batch on so you can have more for the afternoon,” Hrncir said. “So we are going on 12-hour brews and trying to stay ahead of the demand, but we know how important keeping people caffeinated is.”

Unfortunately, the trips and the additional bottled water purchases do invoke an unexpected cost to the local shop, a cost that may not necessarily affect the other corporate coffee chains like Dunkin or Starbucks in the long run.

Restaurants and coffee shops have closed in response to the boil water notice. However, for local shops, closing down means a day of unearned revenue and employees without work. Some have continued to operate just without using their fountain drinks. Others have purchased two-liters or cans to sell to customers instead.

Among them is 550 Pizzeria, a local establishment that just recently celebrated its one-year anniversary as dealing with hurdles, such as the pandemic, has been a regular occurrence for it. The restaurant has also had to discontinue salads as tap water is used to clean the lettuce.

“We have always boiled our water for dough and pasta,” said Janet Duran, the owner of 550 Pizzeria. “We are not selling salads or fountain drinks. That’s one thing that is just sitting there and the syrups to the Coke machine. I have to buy Coke cans every day.”

Other businesses that don’t serve food have their own challenges. Local daycares are potentially one of them. However, some have been able to move beyond the challenge. KinderClub TOO Learning Center, an LLC owned by Veronica Valdez, stated they have distilled water in their facilities and thus are avoiding the impact.

Meanwhile, some businesses have actually been affected positively — companies that offer purification systems for tap water at home.

One of these is Vilu Energy, a water purification and energy business operated by Victor Hugo. He said that the problems Laredo has seen over the years led him to integrating the water purification element into his services after specializing in solar energy for years.

Hugo said that since the boil water notice was announced Sunday, he has experienced a large volume of new calls from potential customers. He states that this shows people want to take personal initiative to make sure their own essential resources are clean and not just have to depend on the city.

“Water filtering is the best way to clean all the bad issues that the water contains in Laredo,” Hugo said.

However, not all businesses are as fortunate to not be impacted.

Dosis continued this week, but not without seeing a dip in sales as Hrncir said in some cases, once people found out that their drink of choice was unavailable, they would walk out the doors.

“People have their routines and their habits, and we are not here to tell them otherwise. So we have lost some customers,” he said. “Hopefully it’s just for as long as the water notice lasts. I don’t think they’re gone forever.”

Hrncir continues to stay positive and understands everyone is struggling during this past week. From people unable to brush their teeth normally to restaurants unable to operate as usual, a prolonged boil water notice has harsh consequences on the community.

On Friday, Dosis Coffee posted that they will be closed on Saturday to restock and get ready for what they hope will be a normal week.

These businesses affected by the water boil notice state that they are looking for something positive to come out of this and for the city to provide them with some compensation or water payment relief considering that the issue has affected their sales.

“I understand stuff happens, but this is not the first time. I’d like to have some sort of help from the city,” Duran said. “Maybe have a free water bill or at least some sort of percentage taken off my bill.”

With the city announcing that the boil water notice is expected to be lifted on Monday after it implemented the free-chlorine conversion on Tuesday, all eyes will be on city officials to make sure these situations are mitigated in the future.

The city at this time has not mentioned if any reparations or financial compensation would be provided to these affected businesses, as City of Laredo Public Information Specialist David Alegria said that the city is currently just focusing on fixing the boil water issue.

“Since we are still working on lifting the boil water notice, no discussion or decisions have been made in that regard,” he said.

Be safe and make sure to boil your water or consider buying a water filtration system like the AquaOx Water Filter.

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