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Restaurants, struggling to survive, fear protracted hardship in Las Vegas

Las Vagas Restaurants, struggling to survive

Owner Chris Palmeri briefly chatted with guests last week outside Naked City Pizza at Paradise Road and Naples Drive.

But with a steady stream of customers grabbing to-go orders, he had to get to work in the kitchen.

The fact that the pizza shop — which introduced a new “Queen City BBQ” smoked meats menu — was busy was a good sign for the business, though there hasn’t been much good news for the restaurant industry since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March.

“It’s tough,” Palmeri said as he sat on a picnic table outside the shop. “Driving through Henderson, you can see that big places with millions of dollars behind them are closing. It’s scary. You don’t know if you’re going to be able to make it.”

The popular restaurant chain wasn’t immune to the economic crisis as Naked City late last month permanently closed its flagship location inside Moon Doggie’s Bar, near Arville Street and West Desert Inn Road.

Naked City was able to secure a federal paycheck protection program loan, which helped the business stay afloat, he said. They still have two Las Vegas locations.

“It was touch-and-go for a while in March and April,” Palmeri said. “We’ve had the good fortune of having some good, loyal customers who have supported us. We’ll see the same people every week.”

The brand has a cult following after being featured on Food Network's “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which brings a steady flow of tourist business to the Paradise Road location near the resort corridor. Of course, tourism was shuttered for nearly three months in the spring and is still sputtering.

Naked City isn’t the only notable restaurant to permanently close.

Vintage upscale French restaurant Pamplemousse, which opened in 1976 east of the Strip on Sahara Avenue, announced last week that it wouldn’t be reopening. It had been temporarily closed since mid-March.

Diana Maisondieu-LaForge, widow of founder Georges LaForge, said a lack of convention business played a large role in the decision. Only 1.7 million people had attended a convention here this year, which is down from 5.1 million through the initial nine months of 2019, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“When we closed, I thought perhaps it would be two weeks, but it turned into months of waiting and hoping,” Maisondieu-LaForge said. “I had planned to reopen, but we’ve really taken a hit. The convention center has been closed, so there’s no business there, and the type of visitor coming to Las Vegas now doesn’t seem to be interested in going to a vintage restaurant and having five courses.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak has asked Nevadans to stay home as much as possible in the coming weeks to combat “deeply concerning” rising COVID-19 positivity numbers. There have been more than 1,000 daily cases over the past week, including a record 2,269 cases Saturday.

If the rise in virus numbers doesn't slow, the state might reimpose prohibitions on in-restaurant dining. A second stimulus package has stalled in Washington and might not happen until after a new Congress is seated and President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January — if at all.

That means a restaurant industry still reeling from initial closures could be in for another blow.

States around the U.S., including nearby New Mexico, have enacted partial lockdowns in recent days to combat the menacing virus. Others, like New York, have curfews for restaurants.

“Unless people really step up the takeout options, we’re just going to get decimated,” said Elizabeth Blau, co-owner of Honey Salt, a restaurant near Summerlin. She also owns a restaurant business consulting firm.

The pandemic has also closed most of the buffets in Las Vegas, and some for good. Chain restaurants are also feeling the brunt of the pandemic, such as Miller’s Ale House closing its Las Vegas locations in May.

“What we’re seeing is basically the deaths of hundreds of thousands of restaurants across the country,” Maisondieu-LaForge said. “We’re not really hearing about it that much. Who knows how many will end up closing. It’s really sad because it affects not only the business owners, but employees, their families, vendors, it’s a trickle-down effect. It’s catastrophic. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

But the pandemic won’t be around forever. Eventually, restaurants will again be booming. Palmeri knows crowds like the one Naked City had last week will again be the norm.

“We just have to roll with the punches, we don’t have any other choice,” Palmeri said. “In two weeks, we could be closed down, but I’m staying optimistic. I can’t predict the future, but I think we can make it. I always believe that Vegas will come back and reinvent itself. 

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