On the edge of Summerlin, Grape Vine Cafe is doing all it can to stay alive. The state extended its COVID-19 guidance that restricts restaurants to 25 percent capacity with mandatory reservations and a maximum of four people per table through January 15, making it difficult for small businesses such as Grape Vine to stay afloat.
Co-owner Linda Kutcher says the new restrictions, which went into effect November 24 to slow the spread of COVID-19, have killed her lunch business, cancelled wine dinners, and curtailed sales of bottles of wine, once a boon to her restaurant.
“It’s very difficult to maneuver,” she says, noting that no one makes reservations for lunch. “With 25 percent occupancy, you cannot make enough to cover all of your monthly bills and payroll due to the minimum number of employees you have to keep on staff to be open.” She says that families of more than four now need to sit at more than one table to adhere to the new mandates. “…we have to seat larger groups at different tables, which makes no sense if they are living together.”
Kutcher bought the neighborhood fixture on Lake Mead Boulevard that originally opened in 1997 back in 2015 after years as a regular customer. Outside, a small covered dog-friendly patio lined with plants continues to serve chicken marsala, pan-seared Chilean seabass, and linguine and clams for weekday lunches and dinners every day but Sunday. A rustic wine bar highlights the dining room with candlelight dining by night that gives the space a distinctly Napa Valley feel.
Grape Vine Cafe typically held big wine dinners in the retail space about once a month to pair wines with the Mediterranean and Italian dishes customers love. Those wine dinners often saw customers buying bottles of wine to go. “They are now cancelled,” she says. “…it is not profitable to do them for this small amount of guests.”
To make up for that lost revenue, Kutcher says she added an online ordering platform and family-meal packages to drum up business. “It helped our business in the beginning when we were closed completely, but has tapered off considerably since that time,” she says. Now that third-party delivery apps can only charge 15 percent to restaurants due to a new directive from Clark County, she started using UberEats and Postmates again.
But when the county allowed restaurants to sell wine to go, her restaurant again felt the effects. Grape Vine, with its wine bar showcasing 40 wines by the glass, held one of three licenses in the city to sell wine and beer for retail when the city gave the same rights to all restaurants to help them during the pandemic. “This crushed the wine sales business I was able to do in April 2020,” she says. Kutcher then lowered wine pricing to help bring in customers and started offering wines to go through online ordering program for those who picked up their meals to go.
Her struggles extend to rent as well. Kutcher waited to approach her landlord about rent “until I absolutely had to and he and I worked out a fair deal, which has helped a little bit. However, this was when we were at 50 percent capacity — not 25 percent — so I am back in the same boat as before.”
She’s bracing for a new spike of COVID-19 cases following the holidays. “This will put us at the end of January before we have a chance to see numbers going down, then they will have to stay down for several weeks before the governor will act on ‘unpausing’ us,” she says. “I’d like to get off this roller-coaster ride now.”
While the state has not extended its restrictions yet, Nevada 3,402 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a record number in the state. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services reports 60 deaths due to COVID-19 complications on Tuesday, another record number. The Nevada Hospital Association reports that 85 percent of Southern Nevada hospital beds were occupied on Thursday, another record only matched by numbers from mid-November.
“It breaks my heart to see what has happened to Las Vegas,” Kutcher says. “I will do what it takes to get through this pandemic and to keep people safe. If I was told that all restaurants need to close for a month and we could save just one person’s life by doing so, I would certainly close to save that one life.”
In the meantime, she remains resilient, committed to surviving. “I’m a fighter and I will not give up. I know if we can get this under control that I can bring the revenues back; I just need a chance to do it at more than 25 percent occupancy.”