After more than 40 years in Las Vegas, Ricardo’s Mexican Restaurant has reached the end of the road.
Like a number of other dining establishments in Southern Nevada, it has been holding on by doing takeout, from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.
“But that’s really a Band-Aid,” said owner Bob Ansara, who added that his crew of 67 workers has been reduced to four, as the restaurant does about 20 percent of its regular sales volume. He plans to continue the service until the Nevada restaurant industry gets the OK to re-open its dining rooms.
“We’ll be here, ironically, until the governor opens us up,” Ansara said. “We’re going to close the day he opens the city. I don’t see re-opening (the restaurant) making any sense.”
Ansara said he decided to close because of a number of factors.
“I’ve been doing it for 40 years and eight months. Not that I don’t have another 10 in me,” said Ansara, 67, “because I do.” In making his decision, he considered his location at Flamingo Road and Decatur Boulevard, the changing demographics of the area and how much money he would need to invest in the business.
“I just don’t see a clear path forward,” he said. “When you take into consideration the hurt of the last two months and what it’s going to take to regenerate the business, and when I look ahead to the next 18 months and see what those months will be like … .”
Ansara trailed off, but he’s clearly thought long and hard about those months.
“I don’t think our recovery’s going to come all at once,” he said. “I think it’s going to be in dribs and drabs and starts and fits. If 300,000 people are out of work today, they’re not going to get rehired at the end of May.”
Ricardo’s has long been a place for family celebrations, for weddings and birthday parties.
“I’ve seen families grow up, just like all of my buddies who have been in the restaurant business a long time,” he said.
Ansara knows the new requirements aimed at limiting the spread of the virus will hurt.
“In many cases, those restrictions will be worse than being closed,” he said, in terms of limiting capacity, limiting party size and having a full-time person in charge of the restaurant’s sanitary requirements.
“While I think they’re all well-intentioned,” Ansara said, “I think they pretty much spell disaster for small businesses.”
It probably doesn’t help that Ansara is not exactly on board with the more pessimistic predictions regarding the virus and what is in store if we don’t strictly follow social distancing and heightened sanitary measures.
“I’m a bit of a COVID-19 denier,” he said. “We’ve got a bad-ass flu on our hands and we’ve shut the world down because of it. This is the first time in 100 years we’ve quarantined healthy people. You can’t argue whether or not measures that have been taken kept it at 3 million; you can’t win that argument. I’m not certain the cure wasn’t worse than the disease. But I don’t mean disrespect to anybody who lost somebody, or somebody who died.”
Richard Reed, who stopped by Ricardo’s on Friday, said he’d been a customer for “more than a couple of decades,” drawn to the good quality and friendships.
“Yes, it was a business, but it’s like an institution of the city,” he said. “I’m obviously very disheartened. It’s a shame that a family-owned tradition like this has to get wiped out because of a virus, and because of strange rules the government puts on things.”
Dave Hanks said he and his wife had been Ricardo’s customers for 40 years.
“When we first started we were raising a family; the kids were quite small and we would go for a special treat,” he said. “And then as the kids grew, if they got good grades or did something well with the sports teams they were on, the big treat was to go to Ricardo’s.”
Along the way, he said, they became friends with the Ansaras.
“They are just delightful in every way,” Hanks said. “Bob is passionate about whatever he does.”
Over the course of four decades, he said, it was inevitable that tragedy would strike along the way, and if there was a funeral, for example, Ansara would provide food.
“He always said he communicated through food,” Hanks said.
He said he heard the news about the closing when he stopped by the restaurant Friday to pick up some takeout.
“I was devastated,” Hanks said.
Ansara said he realizes others might have made a different decision.
“I’m in a position where I can walk away now, rather than fight over the next two years to get back to ground zero,” he said. “Everybody’s in a position to make the decision for themselves. Maybe those people have more incentive to borrow money or think positively, but I’m very concerned about the economy — not only local, but state and federal. I think we’re headed for some really difficult times. We will overcome it, we will survive it. But I just don’t see doing it with the restaurant open.”
Telling his team Wednesday that he wasn’t going to re-open, Ansara said, may have been the hardest thing he’s ever done.
“It was a miserable experience, one I don’t want to duplicate ever again,” he said. “I’ve had a number of weeks to come to grips with it, and to mourn the aftermath of it, so I’m probably a few weeks ahead of the people around me. But it’s a tough time.”