Coronavirus Stories – Midtown Reno bars and restaurants hunker down

Pignic Pub and Patio, March 17, 2020 - image - Brian Bahouth

Perhaps more than any business sector, bars and restaurants have fueled the ascendance of Midtown Reno as a destination, a scene. To see Laughing Planet and Grateful Gardens and Sup and Two Chicks and Old Granite Street Eatery and Campo and Saint James Brasserie and the Rubicon Deli and Wild River Grille and scores of others dark at the same time has a visceral impact.

On Monday, Reno Mayor Hillary Shieve closed all bars, restaurants, nightclubs and nonessential businesses in Reno. Twenty-four hours later, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak made the closures statewide, to include all nonessential retail outlets.

Theresa Agnello is the food operations manager at Pignic Pub and Patio in Downtown Reno. Pignic is a bar and an all but unique restaurant where patrons can use a patio crowded with gas grills to cook food they bring or buy. Pignic also runs a food trailer on the property where they offer prepared foods.

Pignic is a member of the Riverwalk Merchant’s Association. Co-owner Trevor Leppek sits on the Association’s board of directors.

While Agnello agrees with taking measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, she had had a difficult 48 hours when I spoke with her. There had been confusion among business owners following the Mayor’s announcement on Monday. The Governor’s closures on Tuesday are far more specific and unequivocal. All nonessential businesses need to closed by noon on March 18.

The exact date they had to close under the Mayor’s declaration was contradicted by the Washoe County Health Department, which caused an operational whiplash for Agnello and the Pignic staff. She hopes the City of Reno learned a lesson about communicating with businesses in the event of an emergency.

“It (communication from the City) was very, not direct or clear, which causes a lot of panic and stress for small business owners trying to figure out … I do all the scheduling and stuff and trying to figure out if I need to be taking people off bartending shifts … do I need to take down our order for our food? Based on what day business is going to change, it makes a huge difference,” Agnello said.

I visited Pignic on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, a day when the bar would have been otherwise crowded. Instead, she was freezing meat. The City refused to speak in-person with Agnello’s husband and a few other Downtown restaurant owners.

Barstools were on the bar. The hardwood floor was freshly mopped.

Under Governor Sisolak’s closure plan, restaurants can continue to operate with curbside pickup or delivery, but Agnello is uncertain if Pignic can endure an extended shutdown. For now, she hopes people can stay on the job at the Noble Pie Parlor filling delivery and curbside orders so the business doesn’t lose them when and if they resume normal operations.

“The way we’re dealing with it is just trying to prepare to switch to delivery and take out. We already do Uber Eats and Doordash and that kind of stuff from downtown Noble Pie Parlor,” said Agnello who is also human resources manager for the Noble Pie Parlor. “We do not do that at Pignic right now. We don’t do it at Midtown right now. And then we also were supposed to be opening a new Noble Pie in Southtown this Friday, which we weren’t sure about getting our certificate of occupancy and stuff. That has been delayed.”

Can Pignic endure a 30 day shutdown? Agnello said it’s a matter of math.

“I would say certain businesses are a little more, have a little more of a cushion than others, but we definitely have businesses that the bank account, the savings account is small. The margins are small. It also means a lot for employees, holding on to them, them getting on unemployment or finding a different job or whatever that means for when we can be up and running again.”

Agnello is well aware that restaurant workers across the nation live paycheck-to-paycheck. Pignic, like its employees, pays rent and has many ongoing expenses.

“I would say it’s very stressful. At least my husband is one of the owners, and we have a little bit of more of a safety net than our employees, but definitely, I know our employees work paycheck to paycheck. A lot of them … I’ve been encouraging them over the last month or so, like, actually ‘save your tips guys’ because we’re not sure what’s gonna happen. Just trying to give them a little heads up.”

The Brewer’s Cabinet

A few blocks away from Pignic Pub and Patio near the intersection of Arlington and California streets, The Brewer’s Cabinet has steadily grown in size since it began brewing beer and serving food in 2012. On St. Patrick’s Day, a handful of workers hustled to mothball the bar until at least April 17. The kitchen will remain open for curbside delivery.

A crew of Reno firefighters stopped into the Brewer’s Cabinet in Midtown Reno on March 17, 2020 for a few take-out meals – image – Brian Bahouth

The Brewer’s Cabinet now operates four other locations under different names in the region. They also brew and distribute beer and have roughly 70 employees. Ed Griggs is general manager of the Midtown Brewer’s Cabinet and said most of those employees, to include himself, will be laid off.

“I’ll be putting in that application for unemployment,” Griggs said with a shake of the head. “I have a family. I have bills. I have a mortgage.”

Whether the Brewer’s Cabinet group of businesses can pick up where they left off before the coronavirus ended commerce is a factor of time. Griggs could not speculate. And even though he wishes it were otherwise, he said without hesitation that he supports closing bars and restaurants and all nonessential businesses to end end the threat as fast as possible.

“Absolutely. I think it’s all hands on deck to stop the spread of this. I think that’s the most important thing we should be doing.”

The Governor’s closure is in effect for 30 days. At which time he and his advisers will reevaluate the coronavirus situation and decide how to proceed. Both restaurant workers are eagerly counting the hours until April 17 in dire hopes that the virus will have past.