Guy W. Farmer: Local businesses during the COVID-19 lockdown
Like you, I’m concerned about our local businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown. As an Old Guy who doesn’t cook, I’m relying on takeout restaurants, friends and TV dinners to stay alive during the lockdown.
I’m very concerned about how many of our favorite restaurants will survive Gov. Steve Sisolak’s hunker down and stay home orders. Some of those restaurants have closed and I fear they’ll never reopen if the governor doesn’t move us to “Phase One” sooner rather than later, and I sympathize with our shuttered hotel – casinos.
When the Las Vegas Strip goes dark the Silver State is on the verge of bankruptcy.
I decided to interview my friend Jerry Massad, who has owned and operated a local landmark, the Cracker Box, since 1980, to understand how the lockdown has affected him and his popular old-fashioned American diner.
“Business is down about 70 percent,” Jerry (I can’t call him “Massad”) told me last week. “We’re near a break-even point but have managed to remain open for takeout because of good food, a dedicated staff, and a loyal clientele.”
That’s true because when you eat at the Cracker Box you know the staff and about half of the people in the restaurant.
I’m a loyal Cracker Box customer because it has a strong old Carson City vibe and because the food is delicious and plentiful. But if you’re looking for a “green dining experience” featuring kale and tofu, go somewhere else because the “Box” is an unpretentious diner that serves American comfort food. Although the historic Adele’s building was demolished on Wednesday, the venerable Box is still proudly standing at the busy corner of Highway 50 East and Stewart Street.
Jerry, who started out as a bartender in the Bay Area, came to Reno in 1978 and moved to Carson the following year to tend bar at Adele’s, which was then owned by his uncle Paul Abowd and wife Adele. When he “retired” Paul turned the gourmet restaurant over to his son, chef Charlie Abowd and his wife Karen, only to unretire and open the Stone House Cafe’ in Reno in 2005, and that’s where 94-year-old Paul Abowd still presides over the kitchen.
Jerry saw a “restaurant for sale” ad in the Appeal in 1980 and decided to buy the Cracker Box from Don Clapham.
“We (Jerry and his ex-wife Joyce) jumped in the swimming pool and learned how to swim,” Jerry told me.
In 1980 the Box was a 24-seat mom-and-pop restaurant serving breakfast and lunch from Monday to Saturday. A few years later Jerry opened on Sundays, eventually adding 46 seats and more staff.
At the time of last month’s lockdown Jerry had 19 employees, most of them part-timers, led by chief cook Adam Romo and head waitress Siobhan McEver, part-owners who will probably take over the business when and if Jerry decides to retire — a big “if” because he also owns J’s Bistro in Dayton.
Jerry has been approved for a controversial small business loan but doesn’t know whether to complete the transaction because most of his employees may be better off on unemployment.
“I’ll talk to my banker and my CPA,” he said. Just keep cookin’, Jerry.
I’m concerned about other friends in the restaurant business including MariLouise and J.B. Lekumberry at the historic J-T Basque bar and restaurant in Gardnerville; Ardie and Brian Shaw at the Del Rio Cafe’ in Virginia City; Mandy Manyose of V.C.’s Roasting House coffee shop, the granddaughter of my Monday lunch buddy, Bob Becker, and everyone at the incomparable Bucket of Blood.
Just keep cookin’, friends.
Guy W. Farmer, who doesn’t cook, has been eating out around here for many years.