This is how Roland Richter starts his day at his Santa Fe restaurant, Joe’s Dining: First, he checks the kitchen equipment and reviews the previous day’s receipts.

Richter, the first one into the building every day, then puts out his “Open for Curbside Service” sign.

Oh, and one more thing: Richter gets out his thermometer to check the temperature of his employees as they begin to arrive.

That’s the way it is in the restaurant business as COVID-19 continues to apply high heat to an industry in peril.

With a state public health order wiping out table service, owners and operators of Santa Fe restaurants say they’re struggling to get by on a fraction of the income, and often the staffs, they once enjoyed — hoping customer loyalty and faith in their food will keep them around once the crisis ends.

But it’s tough, they say. By Richter’s estimate, business at Joe’s Diner on the city’s south side is down 75 percent. Many other Santa Fe restaurant owners and managers report similar numbers.

“This community has been wonderful to us over the past 20 years, especially during the last economic downturn,” said Richter, who opened the restaurant on Rodeo Road in 2002. “They kept me alive, so I will do anything I can to give back to them.”

The bookkeeper in him thinks it’s a losing proposition, especially after finding out the federal small-business Paycheck Protection Program of some $350 billion ran out of money Thursday. He had applied for some of that assistance, hoping it would keep him going after April 1.

He’s not going to get it, he said.

“I’m not very happy, not very hopeful,” he said a few minutes after receiving the news.

He’s not alone. Santa Fe is home to well over 400 restaurants, some in peril. Those that chose to remain open with limited services wonder how long they can hold on, as the pandemic continues to take a big financial and emotional bite out of their business.

Most had to cut staff considerably — some up to 75 percent. Even with a skeleton crew, times are tough.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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