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Las Vegas-area restaurants in limbo a week after dine-at-home plea

Updated November 16, 2020 - 10:29 pm

Tuesday marks one week since Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak urged the state’s residents to stay home for two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Among his requests was that Nevadans choose “picking up dinner curbside from your favorite restaurant instead of sitting indoors with others who are not members of your household.”

So are Las Vegans heeding his advice? It depends on whom you ask, but most local restaurateurs contacted by the Review-Journal on Monday reported a drop-off in dine-in business since the governor’s news conference.

‘Huge dip’

“We saw a huge dip actually,” says Bianca Alenik, whose family owns the Pasta Shop Ristorante in Henderson. “As soon as he made that announcement, we saw a huge regression back.”

At Americana in the Desert Shores community, manager Michael Avakian reports a similar drop in business.

“After he made his announcement, we did see a decline in reservations and in walk-in business,” Avakian says.

He estimates that decline at about 30 percent. That’s the same number cited by Evan Glusman, whose family restaurant Piero’s recently reopened with limited hours.

“For Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I was off 30 percent,” Glusman says. “And thank God we had a small convention (in town), or it probably would have been more like 50 or 60 percent.”

For Donald Contursi, whose company Lip Smacking Foodie Tours offers guided and self-guided restaurant tours, the setback comes just as things were beginning to get back to normal.

“The bookings were definitely increasing,” he explains of the weeks leading up to the governor’s plea. “People were getting more confident in booking their travel to Vegas. They were getting comfortable that Vegas is open for business. And then as soon as the announcement, you could definitely see a halt in bookings.”

Split the party

Not everyone has seen a decline in business, however. Several neighborhood spots report business as usual over the past week. And Lola Pokorny, owner of two Lola’s locations, says after an initial slowdown, she actually saw a small spike in bookings.

“It was very, very quiet on Wednesday,” Pokorny says. “Thursday we seemed to have a normal day. Then Friday we had an uptick in business, just because (other) restaurants were canceling reservations on patrons, which is unheard of.”

She says several customers came to her after having reservations for their larger parties canceled at other businesses that were unwilling or unable to split up larger groups into smaller, socially distanced tables after the governor’s order. At Lola’s, she’s happy to seat a family of eight at two tables for four, so long as they’re 6 feet apart.

Bracing for a shutdown

The governor’s call for “Stay at Home 2.0” is intended to avoid mandatory restrictions on restaurants and other businesses. But even some restaurateurs whose businesses have yet to be affected think further actions are inevitable.

“I’m already banking on him shutting down and going backward,” says Sam Marvin, owner of Echo & Rig in Tivoli Village, adding that he’s seen no change in bookings or behavior of his customers since last Tuesday. “Not that I’m for or against either side. But just looking at the numbers, it feels like, based on what everyone else is doing (in other states), he’s not going to have a choice.”

Natalie Young, who operates the downtown restaurants Eat and Old Soul, says that whatever the next decision is, she’s just hoping to get a little advance notice.

“I would prefer that he say ‘In two weeks we’re going to shut it down.’ That gives us small businesses time to get ready. We need a minute to figure out what we’re going to do with our food, switch over to all curbside, whatever it is we need to do.”

Leticia Mitchell, who operates Leticia’s at Santa Fe Station and Letty’s on Main Street, agrees that advance notice of any changes to the rules is vital to struggling restaurants. Not knowing what’s coming, or when, has forced her to add another layer to contingency plans to avoid being stuck with perishables.

“Obviously Plan A is we continue forward as is and comply with all the guidelines. Plan B is really emphasizing our curbside ordering and family packages, which we did very well with in the first shutdown. But then Plan C is keeping the inventory as low as possible, because if there is another shutdown, that was a huge, major loss (last time), and we’re hoping that is not something that we have to go through again.”

At Honey Salt, owner Elizabeth Blau hopes officials at all levels of government realize that another shutdown, without a plan to help the affected restaurants, could be devastating.

“We can’t continue to have this mentality of continuing to shut down, with no stimulus plan,” Blau explains. “It’s so irresponsible what they’re doing with people’s life’s work and life’s savings.”

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.

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