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New Mexico restaurant owners ‘trying not to freak out’ as they scramble to comply with limits on guests

chalas wood fire grill
Frankie Torres is the owner of Chala's Wood Fire Grill in Mesilla, New Mexico.

MESILLA, New Mexico - During a normally busy lunch hour at Chala's Wood Fire Grill in Mesilla, the bar sat empty and customers were forced to dine six feet apart.

"Right now, I'm trying not to freak out," said Frankie Torres, who opened up Chala's in 2015, honoring his grandmother and her recipes. He told ABC-7 he employees 34 people.

"Mom and pop shops - this is their lifeblood," said Ernest Carlson, who came in to sit at the bar but instead, ate his chips at a table. "This is how they make their money."

On Sunday night, New Mexico's health secretary ordered all restaurants to operate at no greater than 50% maximum occupancy and seating occupancy in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"Tips are going to be down," Torres said. "I'm starting to stress out about who's going to be the first one (to go) and how that conversation is going to go."

Across town at The Game II, owner Marci Dickerson is preparing for the worst.

"If this lasts a couple weeks, then okay, we can survive it," Dickerson said. "We're in a good position for that. If it lasts longer than that, yes, certainly we're going to have to figure out how to survive and do our best." ​

Dickerson owns The Game I, The Game II and Dickerson's Catering. She estimates she has lost $220,000 from canceled catered events this month, alone.

 "We have 140 employees," Dickerson said. "That's 140 families that depend on us earning enough money to pay them."

"As a working mother of three, the next precautions or steps that they take might affect me," said Rebecca O’Brien, a bartender at The Game II.

O'Brien told ABC-7 that she relies on tips to feed and support her family. As part of the new restrictions, patrons must be seated six feet apart. That means customers cannot be seated at bars.

"That's how I make my money, through tips," O'Brien said. "That's my livelihood. That's how I support my family."

"We lived through 9/11," Dickerson said. "The aftermath of that for the public was a lot, but it was nothing like we're seeing now."

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Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is ABC-7’s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend evening newscasts.


1 Comment

  1. I feel sad for them. The restaurant business has always been an extremely risky undertaking. I suspect many won’t make it through this curtailment.

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