Area restaurants are thankful for the support of the community after the COVID-19 shutdown.

As state restrictions eased last week, many restaurants saw their first sit-down customers in weeks.

Before May 27, restaurants in New Mexico were restricted to take-out and delivery only. Starting June 1, restaurants were able to open to half capacity and patrons were to be seated at tables at least 6 feet apart from each other. Bar and counter seating is still prohibited.

The state Department of Health has also started statewide testing to “identify, isolate, and trace new cases” of COVID-19 for all “employees who work to provide New Mexican families with food, including workers at restaurants, grocery stores, farmers’ markets, distribution centers and food manufacturing facilities,” according to a press release.

COVID-19 tests would be free to anybody who fits the above criteria and would be used so restaurants can get the help they need and the “next steps to take to prevent the spread of the virus, including disinfection and follow-up testing. Proactive testing can minimize disruption to operations,” according to the press release.

Wes Goss, owner of Chili Hills in Moriarty and Edgewood, said his sales suffered during the shutdown.

We were forced to go down to strictly carry-out and delivery for food sales, which decreased business by probably close to 65 to 70 percent,” he said. “We’ve done 30 to 35 percent of what we would normally do during this period but now that things have begun to loosen up, we actually had a decent week this last week.”

Ruben Sisneros, owner of Mustang Diner in Mountainair, said his sales are more like they would be in winter than in springtime. “We haven’t had that big of an impact,” he said. “It has slowed us down on business a little bit and the cost of food has kind of set us back a little bit, but other than they we’ve still been doing pretty well.”

Casey Lawler, owner of Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill in Edgewood, said he doesn’t agree with the way Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham shut down businesses.

I could probably sum it all up in a couple sentences for you,” he said. “If the Governor wouldn’t have screwed up and closed without the regard or concern for the wellbeing of the people that she closed [down], they closed with no regard. … We’d being doing great if she just stayed the hell out of the way.”

But despite hardships these restaurants have faced, the owners said they are grateful for the support their communities have shown them.

Last week has been fantastic,” said Lawler. “The community has been absolutely incredibly supportive of us through the whole thing. Not just last week. If it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t have made it through. I think we’re gonna be fine now.”

Brad Gunter, part-owner of Ribs BBQ in Cedar Crest, said that now they’re doing “very good,” mostly because of their customers.

Our customers were very supportive the whole time, so when we were only doing to go, we were slammed the entire time,” he said. “Now that we’re opened back up, even though we’re only at 50%, we’re slammed all the time too so hopefully it’ll get up, but our customer base is very, very cool.”

Sisneros said that because Mustang Diner is in such a small town, the community has supported them a lot as well.

Goss said that his business is nearly back to normal volume and is “so grateful to be able to now serve our customers. People that dine out, it’s far more of an experience of being involved with their community and neighbors and friends and visiting, as opposed to just filling their tummies with food, and that’s obviously a big part but that part of the experience has really been sorely missed.”

He also said he and his staff are “living on the hopes that we are on the downhill side of this nightmare.”

Sisneros acknowledges that things right now aren’t going to go fully back to normal, but that maybe the “restrictions kind of get uplifted soon so that we can start our profits again. We were on a roll there for a while and then all of a sudden all this stuff happened.”

Gunter said his biggest hope for his restaurant “is that they don’t shut us down again.”

Felecia Pohl
Felecia Pohl