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Las Vegas restaurant owners react to new COVID-19 limits

Updated November 22, 2020 - 7:12 pm

Las Vegas restaurant owners may not be thrilled with restrictions announced Sunday by Gov. Steve Sisolak, but they were encouraged that he didn’t impose a new shutdown.

Sisolak announced Sunday afternoon that he’s requiring restaurants and bars to cut back to 25 percent of capacity, both indoors and out, in what he called a “statewide pause” of at least three weeks.

The restrictions, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, are in response to what the governor cited as a “massive increase in community spread.” A Nevadan is diagnosed with COVID-19 every minute, Sisolak said.

Capacity limits must be posted, he said, and tables are to be limited to no more than four people each. Businesses that serve food are required to be reservation-only. Bar and counter seating must be socially distanced. And masks are required both indoors and out — even if 6 feet of social distancing is in effect — whenever a person is not actively eating or drinking, if he or she is with someone who’s not part of their own household. The same restrictions apply to restaurants within resorts.

The governor said residents and visitors are encouraged to patronize restaurants through curbside pickup, takeout and/or delivery.

Las Vegas restaurant owners contacted by the Review-Journal on Sunday evening said that in light of the slowdown of the past two weeks, business already was close to 25 percent of capacity.

“It’s just more pivoting for us,” said Ryan Doherty, founder of Corner Bar Management, which has several properties in downtown Las Vegas and at Area15. “Unfortunately, we’re getting used to it.”

“It allows us to maintain staff and keep busy,” said Scott Frost, owner of Hussong’s Cantina at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place and in Summerlin. “We’re so slow during the week anyway that going from 50 to 25 percent isn’t that big of a difference.”

But Frost had problems with the reservation-only restriction.

“You’re going to have walk-ups regardless,” he said. “People from out of state don’t know that there’s restrictions. We’re not going to sit there and tell them they have to make a reservation, so that’s a tough one to enforce.”

“I would have preferred him to just close the borders of the states,” said Lola Pokorny, owner of Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen downtown and in Summerlin. “Because when the border states close down — which they have — everyone from California and everyone from Utah comes here. And they go see their families and friends and they go out to eat, because it’s a pleasure and a privilege to go out to eat. But when they’re gathering at the homes, it’s more than 10, 15, 20 people, and that’s where the spread is.”

Los Angeles County announced Sunday that restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars can offer only takeout, drive-thru and delivery services as of 10 p.m. Wednesday and for a minimum of three weeks.

“I do believe a 25 percent capacity is a very difficult challenge for many of us in this industry,” said Cory Harwell, who operates Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, Utah and Georgia. “But right now, I don’t think the primary concern of anyone is about the financials of this business. I think the primary concern is the long-term health of our city and our industry.”

“We’re going to turn over every rock, and we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons,” said Benito Martinez, a managing partner of the Sand Dollar Lounge. “We’re just going to continue to do our absolute best to roll with the punches. And if we’re doing fewer (customers), it just means the quality will go up, our service will go up, and it will be easier to enforce the safety measures. We’re going to maximize every opportunity we have.”

“The shock is going to be that a lot of people will have it in their heads to sit tight, stay in and not go out at all,” Doherty said. “That’s my worry. And I think that’s what every business owner’s worried about.”

“We’re naturally going to a slower time of year,” said Branden Powers, managing partner of The Golden Tiki and Evel Pie. “And to have a pause instead of a complete shutdown, I feel, is a prudent decision and the best choice possible, other than no further restrictions.”

Sisolak said if the state doesn’t experience an improvement in the trends in the next three weeks, further restrictions would be announced. However, he noted recent announcements of progress in developing a vaccine and said there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

“We’re closer to the end than we are the beginning,” he said.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter. Contact Al Mancini at amancini @reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter.

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