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Local businesses get creative to combat the coronavirus

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L.E. Baskow

Chef James Trees in his new restaurant Ester’s Kitchen.

Thu, Mar 19, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Note: After this story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly, Esther's Kitchen temporarily closed its doors.

Las Vegans are feeling the economic impact of coronavirus as the city responds to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Resorts, restaurants and shops continue to close, and service industry workers have been among the hardest hit.

In response to the myriad layoffs across the city, one restaurant is offering free meals to laid-off service workers in exchange for … a six pack of beer.

“I know our city is hurting, so right now, if you’re laid off, we’d love to cook for you,” Esther’s Kitchen owner and chef James Trees posted March 14 on Instagram. “Come in, bring us a six pack of beer [and] we’ll feed you, your significant other [and] if you have a couple of kids, we’d love to have [those] guys in, too. We’re going to do that for free until this whole thing blows over.”

Trees says he made the offer because everyone deserves a good meal, especially during hard times. The deal includes bread, appetizers and pasta, according to the chef.

“This is a town built on hospitality, and I care so much about my hometown. I don’t want [customers] to feel like because they can’t pay once or twice, they shouldn’t be going out,” Trees says. “The most important thing to remember is we’re Las Vegans; we’re Americans; we’ve been through tough times before. We need to go about our daily lives and wash our hands. Get out in the fresh air. Come to Esther’s. Let us feed you, and let us take care of you.”

In response to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s March 16 remarks on COVID-19, Trees cut his restaurant’s seating capacity by half and is now offering delivery at no extra charge. Patrons can place orders by phone or email.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends putting distance between yourself and others if the virus is spreading in your area. If a quarantine is mandated, Trees says Esther’s Kitchen will deliver food to people’s homes. In the meantime, he assures that the restaurant is doing “everything in our power to take care of our community and our neighbors. I’ve told all my staff, if they feel like they’re getting sick to self-quarantine and we will pay them for their time off, no questions asked.” When it comes to sanitation, Trees adds, “as cooking chefs and servers, we wash our hands a hundred times a day.”

So how can you get that free meal? Trees says to simply bring in the beer and ask for it.

Businesses across the Las Vegas Valley, including Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, have come up with other inventive ways to keep patronage up.

Compliance Director Ashley Blackwood says Thrive has seen a “spike in sales” since the coronavirus pandemic hit Las Vegas. “We’re seeing higher ticket averages, and people are purchasing higher quantities,” she says.

The dispensary launched a reduced-price $20 value menu and has begun offering free delivery for orders over $65. Blackwood says all delivery vehicles are equipped with sanitary wipes and that “everything is done in a sanitary environment.”

Blume Kitchen & Cocktails in Henderson is also offering free meals to children 12 and under, with the choice of buttered noodles, a cheeseburger and fries, chicken tenders and fries or a grilled cheese and fries, from 3 p.m. till close until further notice.

Other businesses in town have had to think outside the box to keep customers coming in. Vegan deli NoButcher has offered a “no-contact” drive-thru for pickup orders. Chef Jainine Jaffer launched a delivery option for her Indian/Mediterranean restaurant Shiraz. And gentlemen’s club Little Darlings is advertising its “coronavirus-free lap dances.”

Jonathan and Ashley Bradley, the husband and wife duo behind ice cream truck Spoon-A-Bowl, say the virus could have “a drastic impact” on their business. The couple launched Spoon-A-Bowl in 2017 after Jonathan was laid off from Fox Sports. “We wanted to follow our dream, so we sold our home and invested all our money in the business,” he says.

As the community reacts to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all the event and regular gigs where Spoon-A-Bowl sells have been canceled, including a weekly stop at UNLV. In hopes of staying busy, the Bradleys rolled out a home-delivery option for their made-from-scratch frozen yogurt and ice cream, available by contacting the business through its Instagram and Facebook. “We really have no other option than to get creative,” Jonathan says. “It could spell the end for us.”

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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