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Las Cruces Area Restaurants Struggling Without Dine-In Service



A recent Yelp survey indicates over 60 percent of restaurants nationwide that closed temporarily because of COVID-19 have now shut their doors forever.

Here in Las Cruces, the weight of the pandemic is being felt by restaurants across the city. 

“The unknown. That's the problem, the unknown, are we going to be able to go inside again?” Jodie York said.

Las Cruces restaurant owner Jodie York is asking the question on the minds of restaurant owners nationwide.

Her business, A Bite of Belgium, is doing its best to survive the pandemic, taking all required safety precautions and introducing curbside pick-up and delivery.  Dining on-site has changed too.

“We've had a patio for four years now. What we had to do was put some more tables outside the patio. We can't have alcohol out there but at least we can add some extra tables," York said. 

She says the hardest part has been New Mexico’s decision to offer little warning when shutting down dine-in service a second time. 

“It's very difficult to be told three days before, oh, you have to shut down indoor dining. There's no support, where you're thinking okay, we have all this food, we have all the inventory, but you have to go and cut your business again 50 percent,” York said. 

It's a sentiment The New Mexico Restaurant Association's Carol Wight is echoing, as she has seen restaurant owners struggle to sell inventory.

"It's been devastating. I mean, of course, we got open at one point, we were open for a month and then the governor closed us down,” Wight said. “People are just hopeless right now. I mean they have no hope. I'm going to try and give them hope."

The New Mexico Restaurant Association is working with restaurants to give them tools to keep their doors open post-pandemic.

The association has hosted weekly phone calls to gauge concerns statewide, as well as webinars on bankruptcy laws.

Even still, the association has seen a rise in permanent closures since the start of the pandemic.

“We took a survey early on and folks said that three percent of them had already closed their doors permanently, and another three percent said that if it went on for more than a month they would have to close their doors permanently,” Wight said. “That’s 210 restaurants.”

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a recent press conference, her goal is to help support local businesses by giving them access to state assistance, while remaining vigilant against the virus. 

“'We're clear that COVID was not a short-term issue. This infectious disease pandemic is a long-term issue that is going to require us to rethink not only our own personal habits and our workplace strategies, but we have to recognize that this has had a significant negative impact on businesses,” Grisham said. “We want to put in as much money as possible…we have $600 million in state assistance for New Mexico small business that is now moving out the doors.”

The governor encouraged local businesses who need help applying to call 833-551-0518. She also instructed those who need more information to go online to gonm.biz in the hopes it will help businesses heal from their own pandemic inflicted wounds.

For Anthony Ostland, a manager at Lorenzo’s Italian in Las Cruces, he’s hoping the economy will be able to restart sooner rather than later —if not for the sake of the restaurant itself, than for the employees he manages.

"It's not just serving food. It's not the simple,” Ostland said.  “There are human beings with names, with families, with rent, with paychecks, with kids' meals they have to provide. That's the bigger thing that's going on here. What's been challenging is the turning on and off of the economy."

Ostland is the nephew of owner Vince Vaccaro, a fact Ostland says speaks to the family atmosphere of the business. He says the family understands the need to keep people safe, but does not want the business to be another victim of the pandemic.

That’s why the family has added a temporary patio, to be able to host guests in some capacity.

“You adapt or die, and so it’s forced our hand in a lot of amazing ways to start providing new services,” Ostland said.

Both Lorenzo’s Italian and A Bite of Belgium participated in Let Us Serve protests to highlight the struggle restaurants have been facing.

In a video posted to Facebook, A Bite of Belgium staff members can be seen standing outside their restaurant, spaced out, with masks and signs to illustrate their need to reopen.

Still, Jodie York understands the need to keep her community healthy. Above all, she longs for the day she’ll be able to welcome customers back inside.

"I’m hoping there’s a vaccine very quickly. I mean I think that’s the only way we’re going to be able to do 100 percent. I would be happy with 50 percent right now, inside,” York said.