Doña Ana County returns to Red: What it means for restaurants

Leah Romero
Las Cruces Sun-News
A Bite of Belgium invested in a large outdoor patio tent, which opened Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. This allows the restaurant to serve regardless of the county's current color status.

LAS CRUCES – Restaurant owners and employees are frustrated with having to discontinue indoor dining after only two weeks as Doña Ana County returns to the Red level.

The New Mexico Department of Health announced Wednesday that Doña Ana County reverted to the Red level in the state's Red to Green COVID-19 framework after two weeks in the Yellow level.

The levels are determined by two factors — COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity — in each county. Counties that meet a certain threshold in those criteria are Green or Turquoise; counties that meet neither threshold are Red; and counties that meet one threshold are Yellow. The state imposes varying restrictions based on a county's color.

The state's Red to Green framework is updated every two weeks. This week, the state added Turquoise for counties maintaining meeting the thresholds.

The Pecan Grill in Las Cruces opened for indoor dining on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. Indoor dining will have to cease for at least 12 days starting Friday, Feb. 26, according to the state's public health orders.

In the Red level, food and drink establishments are not allowed to offer indoor dining, are limited to 25% capacity for outdoor dining and those that serve alcohol must close by 9 p.m. every night. Those are harsher restrictions than under the Yellow level, when establishments can offer some indoor dining and can close at 10 p.m.

Two weeks ago:Doña Ana County restaurants can now offer indoor dining

Pecan Grill and Brewery will continue to operate indoors through Friday — the allotted transition time for restaurants to adhere to the health orders. After that, patio seating and pickup will be offered. Luckily, the restaurants managers held off on submitting supply orders until Thursday, saving on money and potential food waste.

Alyssa Salcido, director of operations at the restaurant, said business was doing well the past few weeks and they were even in the process of hiring more staff to keep up with customers. Now, staff members will experience a cut in shifts.

“That makes us look bad as an employer because I know we just hired you and we told you you were going to have good hours, but actually you're only going to get one shift a week because we want to keep as many of you as possible,” Salcido said.

The restaurant was closed from mid-November 2020 through Jan. 2, 2021. Accepting indoor diners was a nice boost in morale, but Salcido described the color update as disheartening and confusing.

“It just feels like everything's up in the air because the whole name of the framework was Red to Green and now that we're adding colors, it's like Red to what?” Salcido questioned. “At what phase are we going to decide that we can't operate on a two-week basis? Nobody can.”

A small wedding and several pharmaceutical events were planned for the Pecan Grill's indoor area, but now they will have to be canceled. Salcido said she hopes the weather continues to be pleasant for outdoor diners.

More:Las Cruces area restaurants Pastaggio's, Lescombes Family Vineyard and Beck's expand offerings

Anticipating change

A Bite of Belgium reopened Thursday after being closed since late November. Owner Jodie York said they anticipated restaurants having to close and reopen, so they invested in a large outdoor tent to accommodate customers. York said they were already getting calls from their regulars on their first day back.

A Bite of Belgium reopens with an outdoor patio tent on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

“We also spent the extra time and extra money on our venue outside. So that it would be nicer than just sticking up a tent and then that way too in the future we can use it for weddings and parties,” York said. “It’s not a typical outdoor dining experience.”

Their tent is also much larger than their indoor dining space, so they are able to serve more people. York said that if in two weeks Doña Ana County turns Yellow when the updated Red to Green map is released, they will open a small section for indoor diners.

Tom Hutchinson, owner of La Posta de Mesilla and Hacienda de Mesilla, said the reversion back to Red level is disappointing. His restaurants will continue to operate indoors for the next two days and then only patio and pickup. He said that when Doña Ana County turned Yellow, it took them by surprise and required more than a few days to prepare and hire staff. They will be preparing for the county to return to Yellow in two weeks.

“Think how many folks I have on my schedule this weekend that are counting on a paycheck, counting on good work, inventory that I have in the (refrigerator) or my walk-ins to serve folks. And being told basically that my business can be pretty much cut in half by the time that 48 hours occurs,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson also mentioned that the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce will be organizing local businesses, workers and the general community to encourage more COVID-19 testing. With more negative tests, the positivity rate will lower, making the county’s chances of turning yellow better.

The Red to Green map will be updated again on March 10.

Leah Romero is a fellow with the New Mexico Local News Fund and can be reached at or @rromero_leah on Twitter.