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Albuquerque Restaurants Respond to New Public Health Order While Business Slows

Nash Jones
Availble tables pulled six feet apart in Coda Bakery's dining room

The New Mexico Department of Health Sunday, Mar. 16, announced amendments to the public health order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The changes involve new rules for restaurants, including staying at or below half occupancy, having no more than six people at a table, and positioning the tables at least six feet apart. Local restaurants in Albuquerque’s International District are working to comply with the order while weathering a significant drop in business.

The amended order calls for it to be “disseminated broadly” in multiple languages. However, none of the owners we spoke with had received communication from the state. James Dang, owner of Pho Thien An on the corner of Central Ave. SE and Louisiana Blvd. NE, says he heard the news from his first customer of the day. “He came in and told me, ‘did you hear anything about that?’,” James said. “I said ‘I didn’t hear anything about it’.” 

Credit Nash Jones / KUNM
Tablecloths marking available tables at the ordered distance apart at Albuquerque's May Cafe

Restaurant owners who were aware of the new public health order had heard about it on the local news Sunday night and had quickly implemented the changes first thing Monday. That includes Kim Nguyen, owner of May Cafe in Albuquerque’s International District, who’d marked every-other-table with a white lace tablecloth, signaling they were 6 feet apart and ok to sit at. 

Uyen Nguyen, who owns Coda Bakery down the street, had taken additional steps like color coding tongs for those handling money, and using spray bottles and paper towels instead of a bucket and washcloth to wipe down surfaces. “We are in compliance. You know, making sure there's a good distance [between the tables]. I'm noticing that people are very cautious or they're standing further apart,” she said. “There's a lot of to-go orders, but business has definitely slowed down a lot. Usually we're slammed.”

Pho Thien An says they made just $68 last Thursday and are considering the possibility of shutting down for a couple months. Kim Nguyen of May Cafe was worried about keeping her staff, many of whom have worked for the family-owned restaurant for most of its 27 years. 

Despite the challenges for their businesses, most of the International District restaurant owners were supportive of the public health order’s intent to curb the spread of Coronavirus. 

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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