On Saturday, May 9, restaurant owners got the green light, along with barbershops, hair salons and some retail businesses, to reopen as part of the state’s Phase 1 plan to emerge from the coronavirus shutdown. There are many guidelines put in place by the Southern Nevada Health District, including a 50 percent reduction in seating capacity, masks for employees and rigorous sanitation protocols.
Some restaurants, depending on size and format, were more ready to roll despite the short notice, while others had the original Phase 1 reopening of May 15 as their target date. (Among the restaurants available for dine-in at press time were: Aces & Ales, the Bagel Café, Big B’s Texas BBQ, DE Thai, Doña Maria, Fukuburger, the Great Greek, Izakaya Go, Juan’s Flaming Fajitas, Lamaii, Locale Italian Kitchen, Mama Bird Southern Kitchen, Marché Bacchus, Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, Taco y Taco andPuck Players Locker.)
Egg Sammie, a breakfast joint in the southwest, had built a lot of buzz online before it debuted a few weeks before the shutdown. Though the timing was far from ideal, owner Anthony Connelly says his restaurant has actually done brisk business even with just takeout service. The restaurant’s concept—hand-held egg sandwiches that can be consumed quickly—has worked in its favor, and there’s a park across the street where people can hang out and eat their food. Still, Connelly won’t be opening the dining room until May 15, when his staff will be ready to implement all guidelines set forth by the state.
“We’ve been disinfecting everything since the second that we opened,” he says. “We will bring in extra staff to regulate the door. We’re getting social distancing dots for the ground to make sure that people are lining up in the proper capacity and waiting outside. [The door staffer] will double as a food runner, and someone will consistently be cleaning tables.”
Restaurants offering a dine-in concept, rather than a fast-casual one, will likely have a tougher time adjusting to the capacity restriction. “We’re definitely more of an experience, ‘come sit down, enjoy the environment’ type of restaurant,” says Jamie Tran, chef of the Black Sheep, which normally has a seating capacity of 58. “There’s a number of seats for certain reasons for us to continue running a business. So cutting that in half is definitely not what we envisioned.”
For now, the Black Sheep will continue its takeout and delivery model until it can reopen its dining room, which Tran thinks will happen in late May or early June. She says she wants to make sure she and her staff are ready to implement the proper procedures, and also to anticipate other challenges that might arise, including another wave of the outbreak.
For Bryce Krausman, owner of DW Bistro, reopening means pivoting to a model that allows DW to retain its identity while rising to the challenges in the restaurant industry, which, even before the pandemic, was already in a tricky state with rising rents and food costs. “For us, it’s a matter of, how does a restaurant do more than just brick-and-mortar, especially with 50% capacity?” Krausman says.
DW’s brunch, which has an avid following, poses the biggest challenge—and the biggest opportunity—for Krausman, who plans to reopen the dining room mid-May. He says to expect changes, including a modified menu (in response to the disrupted food supply chain) and a reservation system, in order to ensure proper social distancing. DW will also offer curbside pickup and delivery for those who can’t get a reservation. “We’re going to definitely do more of that, so people don’t feel like they’re missing out on brunch if they can’t get into our space,” Krausman says.
The next few weeks and months will surely be a challenging time for the Valley’s chefs and restaurateurs as they try to find footing on shifting ground, and undoubtedly there will be starts and stops until we find the new normal. “We just have to figure out how we’re going to run things,” Tran says. “This is all new to us.”