Hatch restaurants hard-hit during pandemic
HATCH – Sparky’s Burgers and BBQ is a popular stop for a green chile cheeseburger or barbecue. Patrons of the famous southern New Mexico restaurant are usually met with lines of other guests waiting to place their orders.
But not this year. Restaurant owner Teako Nunn explained that Sparky’s is currently operating at about 25% of its previous business. Before the pandemic, the Hatch restaurant was serving about 600 customers per day. Now, it's about 125 to 150 per day.
“We're not making money, I just want to keep the kids (employees) working … and I want to keep the brand alive,” Nunn said. “I think we're just kind of, you know, rocking along …. I'm just hoping, you know, when it starts getting better we'll be poised to get better with it.”
Since March, restaurants in New Mexico have had to adapt to various restrictions, including reductions in indoor dining and outdoor dining. Currently, Doña Ana County is categorized as Red Level, meaning restaurants can offer outdoor dining at 25% of their total occupancy, but no indoor dining.
Nunn said the restaurant built out its patio area in early June. Though renting tents for outdoor dining was popular at the time, Nunn said they chose to create something permanent. He also said the restaurant made the decision at the time to discontinue indoor dining through at least the end of the year.
“I’m so darn proud of the patio, it rocked during the summer,” Nunn said. But people lost interest as the weather turned cooler recently.
He does have about eight benches set up in the sun under the trees surrounding his restaurant which have been favored as the weather has cooled. He has also brought more of the inside quirkiness of the restaurant outside so people can still enjoy the full “Sparky’s experience.” Nunn said he added Spider-Man and a Popeye's Chicken sign as decor on the patio wall just last week.
“With this COVID, you really just can't do businesses as usual. You’ve got to adapt daily. Like this weather change just, I'm sure, caught everybody by surprise. It's like really cold,” Nunn said Friday.
Sparky’s is not necessarily in danger of ever closing Nunn said — he owns the building — but other restaurants in Hatch have been hit hard and may not bounce back.
Hot Stuff Restaurant and Gift Shop used to serve various burritos, gorditas, menudo and other Mexican foods, but as of mid-November, they are only selling items from their gift shop. Manager Sofia Soto said the decision came about due to slow business. She said people were scared to go out or were looking for indoor seating, which was not allowed by the state for a time and is not currently permitted. When customers were told indoor seating was not available, they chose to go elsewhere. Soto said the owners have not yet decided whether they will reopen their kitchen.
“They're still deciding what to do because, you know, it's too hard to keep, you know, a restaurant. It’s hard,” Soto said.
Meanwhile, Pepper Pot Restaurant, B & E Burritos and Valley Cafe are still serving customers and offer patio seating.
Restaurant customers in Hatch seem to be using the trip to the small town as a break from their shelter-in-place cabin fever.
“People come they say, ‘we just had to get in the car and here we are,’” Nunn said of visitors of Sparky’s. “Come to Hatch,” he emphasized.