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For Vegas restaurants already booked for Thanksgiving, restrictions deliver hard blow

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Christopher DeVargas

Rhonda and Jeff Wyatt pose for a photo inside their French bistro Marche Bacchus, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

Tue, Nov 24, 2020 (2 a.m.)

On Sunday, the Marche Bacchus French bistro in Desert Shores had about 150 reservations for Thanksgiving Day.

Monday morning, less than 24 hours after Gov. Steve Sisolak announced enhanced COVID-19 safety restrictions on restaurants, owner Rhonda Wyatt was busy fielding multiple cancellation calls.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have to throw away turkey or not,” said Wyatt, who owns the French bistro with her husband, Jeff. “We probably will because we prepped for 175 people.”

With the virus surging in Nevada, Sisolak announced that starting Tuesday, restaurants will be limited to 25% occupancy, down from 50%.

Tables will also be restricted to no more than four guests, and reservations will be required.

Sisolak announced similar restrictions for casinos, bars and other businesses.

A number of restaurant operators questioned how long they could continue operating under those constraints, which Sisolak said will remain in place at least three weeks.

“With the fixed costs that we have and no relief from the government, we can’t operate at 25% occupancy and make money,” Jeff Wyatt said. “It’s almost game over.”

James Trees, owner and chef at Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas, said the 50% cap was already a death sentence for many restaurants.

“Now going to 25%, the question is just about how long we let the bleeding happen before we have to close,” Trees said.

Some restaurant owners said they felt unfairly targeted by social distancing rules.

Trees said restaurants have been proactive in helping keep their customers and staff safe. “I feel like our industry has been cut off at the knees by the governor,” he said.

Penny Chutima, manager of Lotus of Siam, a family-run Thai restaurant on East Sahara Avenue, described the shifting mandates as “playing Russian roulette, trying to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

In making his announcement, Sisolak pointed to the unique challenges restaurants face in trying to control the spread of the virus.

“I know the majority of our bars and restaurants are doing their best, but these settings are proven to be high risk because they allow the opportunity for people to remove their face coverings in indoor settings around people outside of their household. That’s how the virus spreads,” he said.

With the new restrictions, Trees said, his restaurant will have only 18 seats available for patrons. About 40 people work at Esther’s Kitchen.

If business conditions don’t improve this winter, Trees said, he might have to close, at least temporarily.

“Maybe you close for two or three months until the vaccines are available, or maybe it’s six months,” he said.

Sam Marvin, owner of the Echo & Rig steakhouse in Tivoli Village, said it’s going to be important for landlords to work with restaurants to help them survive.

“How can you pay 100% of your rent if you’re only allowed to do 25% of your business? Landlords, in turn, have to go to their banks and the banks will say they don’t care, the mortgage has to be paid. It’s a domino effect,” Marvin said.

Marvin also blamed political leaders for not better managing the pandemic.

“It’s really a mess. I think it’s not the pandemic itself, but it’s how we’re handling it in our state, unfortunately,” he said.

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