Santa Fe restaurateurs were largely ho-hum Thursday about Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision this week to allow indoor dining to resume at 25 percent occupancy.
Saturday will be the first time since July 13 that restaurants can open dining rooms. New Mexico was one of only three states, along with California and New Jersey, to ban indoor dining for the past month or two as cases of the novel coronavirus surged nationwide.
Many diners have been skittish about eating indoors during the pandemic. But Angela Mason, a managing partner at Santa Fe Bite, said her customers favor indoor seating.
“Most of our customers are unhappy about being outside,” Mason said. “They prefer the cool comfort of indoors.”
Santa Fe Bite can seat 30 people outdoors and 25 indoors.
“We’ve been much better for lunch and brunch on the patio — better than dinner because of the rain and wind coming in,” Mason said. “It will be like dining out when you’re dining in.”
The Pantry Restaurant put up a tent over some parking spaces to seat 20 people.
The 25 percent rule will allow another 20 people to dine indoors, manager Ruben Mendez said.
“It’s not a big difference,” he said. “It’s very little, but we’ll take it.”
Mendez said the shifting public health regulations for restaurants have been challenging.
“It’s just staying alive,” he said. “Are we making any profit? Not really.”
New Mexico Restaurant Association CEO Carol Wight said at least the new rule gives diners a choice.
“I certainly think down south they are rejoicing more than in the north,” Wight said. “Eating outdoors in 100 degrees is not fun. We’re hoping this is the first step to get back up to 100 percent.”
Restoring some indoor dining comes as Cafe Pasqual’s was set to reopen Friday after shutting down in mid-March. But owner Katharine Kagel will open the downtown eatery with takeout service only.
“We’re excited about it,” she said.
“If we reopen the dining room, that’s 12½ people,” she said. “We look forward to being a full restaurant when all this is history. Meanwhile, we want people to enjoy taking our food home.”
Cafe Fina on Old Las Vegas Highway has a dining room and patio, but owner Murphy O’Brien hasn’t bothered to open the indoor area since “coronavirus” became a buzzword. He offered patio dining for a few weeks, until Lujan Grisham banned indoor dining for the second time in July. For now, he’s sticking with takeout service.
“I feel the potential for spread is still there,” O’Brien said of the coronavirus. “I’d rather err on the side of caution.”
A drive-thru window has offered sustainable business for Cafe Fina, generating 60 percent to 65 percent of last year’s revenue levels.
“We’re one of the lucky ones that we’re able to stay pretty busy without indoor and patio dining,” he said. “Having a drive-thru window is a total blessing.”
For Josh Gerwin, the owner of Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, having an adjacent butcher shop and operating a stand at the Sawmill Market food hall in Albuquerque have helped keep his business afloat.
Sawmill Market has reopened and his stand is “doing fantastic,” he said, adding the butcher shop has been thriving through the pandemic.
The 25 percent indoor occupancy rule nets Gerwin eight seats in Dr. Field Goods Kitchen.
“I would say the restaurant is on death row,” Gerwin said. “It’s not making enough money.”
But he is not giving up and plans to offer indoor seating.
“I’m changing the concept, more counter service,” he said. “I will just have a kitchen staff. I think I will do it long term.”
Out on the road to Madrid, Beer Creek Brewing has essentially operated as a beer garden with the indoor restaurant on hiatus.
“Because we have such a beautiful patio, we have not opened the inside at all,” co-owner Rich Headley said. “We don’t have any intention to seat anybody inside. We don’t need to.”
Beer Creek has prospered because it has two business licenses, one for its brewery and one for its restaurant. Dining outside enables customers to take beer home, Headley said.