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Alcohol restrictions frustrate restaurants trying to survive pandemic

Updated March 25, 2020 - 9:09 am

As restaurant owners go, Nick Palmeri is among the lucky ones.

His family business, Gaetano’s Ristorante, has remained busy as it’s converted to a curbside pickup model.

He has been able to keep at least nine employees working close to full-time hours. He says that number would be higher if he wasn’t prohibited from packaging cocktails, or even beer or wine, to accompany customers’ meals.

“I have customers who come in every week for my specialty cocktails,” he said.

The only restaurants permitted to sell beer or wine to customers ordering meals are those with a license that specifically authorizes the sale of packaged goods for off-premise consumption.

Those licenses are generally restricted to taverns and urban lounges and allow those sales through pickup orders only, not delivery. The only companies permitted to deliver alcohol, now that liquor stores have been closed as nonessential, are large grocery stores.

Jeff Wyatt, owner of French restaurant and wine retailer Marche Bacchus, has three licenses allowing him to sell alcohol but says none of them allows him to sell a bottle of wine with a takeout meal.

As a result, he has temporarily closed his restaurant — a decision he says he wouldn’t have made if the regulations were applied differently.

“I would have reduced the menu down to something that could have been executable by one of my line cooks, and then I would have sold package liquor.”

David Samuels, owner-operator of Henderson’s Carlito’s Burritos, said he received a cease-and-desist letter from the city on March 5 informing him that the license that allows him to sell packaged beer, wine and spirits-based drinks for off-premise consumption does not cover the margaritas he’d been offering to takeout customers.

“They’re saying that if we put a margarita in a bottle, that I’m manufacturing (liquor),” he said.

So he no longer advertises those cocktails among his takeout food and grocery options, but he occasionally packs them up for regular customers who ask.

Jehrome Thigpen, owner of the Craft LV liquor catering company, says he has approached city and county officials about changing the regulations to allow alcohol delivery, or at least modify them, during the COVID-19 crisis.

“So far, they haven’t been willing to budge,” he says. So he’s in the process of drafting a petition to circulate among affected businesses.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5250. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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