As the pandemic continues to keep restrictions in place at restaurants across Nevada, owners are doing all they can to keep the doors open. The hope of vaccines coming to the rescue are slowed by the state receiving the second lowest number of doses per capita nationwide, according to Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The state received 287,000 doses and delivered 212,000 to counties and other vaccine providers. Pharmacies received another 74,850 doses, but so far, only those 70 and older can receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna.
Jeff Ecker, owner of Restaurant Consultants of Las Vegas, works with Paymon’s, the Mediterranean restaurant with hookah lounges. Since late November, state mandates limit both restaurants to 25 percent capacity with mandatory reservations and a maximum of four people per table. He says the new restrictions have hurt business considerably.
“The restrictions are actually spooking people to reduce dining out and taking out,” Ecker says. “It is doing much more damage than what many would know.”
Paymon’s from owner Paymon Raouf originally opened in 1988 with a deli featuring Middle Eastern food and beverages under the name Middle Eastern Bazaar, and in 2020, changed its name to Paymon’s Fresh Kitchen & Lounge to reflect the fresh ingredients used in its dishes. The restaurant originally launched 33 years ago with just a dozen items on the menu in a 900-square-foot space, and now sports four pages of dishes hailing from Italy, Greece, the Middle East, and Persia at its two locations on Eastern Avenue just north of the 215 Beltway and Sahara Avenue near Durango Drive. Falafel and flaming saganaki, moussaka and kabobs, and fesenjan, a Persian delicacy that uses boneless chicken breast slowly cooked with crushed walnuts in a tangy semi-sweet pomegranate sauce make up some of the dramatic dishes on the mainstay menu.
Since November, Ecker says business is down, especially in the lounges, where customers can’t order takeout and delivery. The lounges pre-pandemic were a nightlife destination with seductive lighting, deejays, and smoke wafting from hookahs, a specialty at Paymon’s.
The cafe saw a 10 percent increase in takeout and delivery. At the beginning of the pandemic, when the state closed nonessential businesses including restaurants to in-person service, both locations added takeout and curbside parking spots, but neither measure really helped the business. “We have been criticized for being too strict customers, causing hurtful reviews,” Ecker says.
Those prospects could change in the next two months or so as the restaurant continues to evolve to cope with the new ways customer are dining. Paymon’s hopes to add quick-serve dining to the Eastern Avenue location. When the change takes place, one dining room will handle a faster service menu with smaller portions at a reduced price while the other remains dedicated to full dine-in service.
The Sahara location just revamped its patio, as well.
Despite the changes, Ecker calls the future “bleak” and thinks the government is using the restaurant industry as a scapegoat for the increase in COVID-19 cases statewide. “How many restaurants have been shut down because employees are all out sick? None that I have heard of. The damage is irreparable and small business owners are getting clobbered and riddled with debt once they close down. They don’t have the deep pockets of large business.”
The number of COVID-19 cases statewide is improving. On Monday, the state reported 990 new cases of coronavirus and three deaths, bringing statewide totals to 271,897 cases and 4,029 deaths since the pandemic started. The latest numbers suggest a downward trend, with the number of new cases reported coming in well below the two-week moving average of 1,281 cases per day, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services coronavirus response website reports. For the past 14 days, the state averaged 18 deaths per day. Of those people tested, 19.4 percent tested positive, another number that is declining for the 10th straight day and a key statistic followed by the state to determine whether to relax restrictions.
Ecker believes restaurants are being diligent and cleaning far more than other venues that remain open. “Restaurants are far more vigilant than any other industry as our staff are trained continually on best sanitation practices,” he says. “Driving people inside invites people bring people into their homes to socialize instead, which is far riskier.”