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RESTAURANT CATERING

Catering still on the menu as local restaurants pivot to survive pandemic

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“It was like flipping a switch,” Corner Deli owner Mark Stephens said about the collapse of his catering business when Covid-19 hit in March 2020.

Stephens, who has owned Corner Deli, 2139 N. Main St., for 31 years, had been catering a lot of parties and special events – “six-inch subs were a big thing,” he said – as well as events for public schools and New Mexico State University, before the pandemic.

Corner Deli has survived during Covid because of takeout orders, which it was doing a lot of before Covid, Stephens said, and because of the continuing support of longtime, loyal customers.

Catering was 10 to 15 percent of Salud! de Mesilla’s business before Covid, said co-owner Christopher Schaljo. Salud, 1800 Avenida de Mesilla, is beginning to see “a little uptick” in catering, Schaljo said, and he expects it to continue to increase.

“I think everything’s going to come back,” said Schaljo, who owns Salud! with partner Russell Hernandez.

Curbside service helped Salud! get through the pandemic, Schaljo said, and the restaurant also changed its business model by creating family-pack entrees – everything from lemon and herb chicken to salmon and serrano aioli, which can feed a family of four and are “priced well,” Schaljo said – which are available for take-out only.

“That sustained us,” he said.

Catering “almost completely shut down” for Dickerson Catering, said owner Marci Dickerson.

But, her core catering staff of five “never missed a paycheck” throughout the pandemic, Dickerson said, and her whole team is in place as catering begins to return.

The catering business “won’t ever go back to what it was,” Dickerson said, because some businesses and organizations that hosted large in-person conferences, employee-training sessions and special events before the pandemic will continue to do them remotely going forward. Catering for smaller events like birthday parties and weddings will take several months to recover, she said.

“There are many challenges still facing the restaurant industry and the tourism industry,” Dickerson said. Labor shortages and “rising costs across the board” are “a by-product of decisions made by the government and our leaders over the last year,” she said.

After the pandemic hit, Dickerson quickly added additional outdoor space to the restaurants she owns, The Game Sports Bar and Grill and The Game II, to serve customers when indoor dining was restricted. She even helped other, smaller restaurants add or expand their own outdoor service areas.

“Everybody has to survive to make this work,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson also got a real-estate license during Covid, and opened Dickerson Group real estate, to go along with her catering business, The Game (2008), Game II (2016), her Revolution 120 nonprofit (2017) and The Association, a women’s development group Dickerson started with Sumer Rose Nolen in 2020.

Real estate is “a great industry to get into to help stabilize the economics of our future,” Dickerson said. “The extension into real estate is very natural,” she said, and necessary “in order to help provide for my family and my employees.”

 With help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, Dickerson has been able to continue paying 100 percent of her 120 employees throughout the pandemic, she said.

“We were very fortunate in many ways,” Dickerson said.

“We’re still here,” Mark Stephens said about Corner Deli, which was actually located on the corner of north Main Street and Madrid Avenue for 14 years before Stephens and his wife, Cindy, moved it into the shopping center at that same location, right next to Chiropractic Caring For You.

“We never closed,” said Stephens, who has kept all nine employees who worked for him before the pandemic hit.

You can call in an order – the staff will even bring it out to your vehicle – or you can go inside Corner Deli to place your order. But Stephens is not allowing indoor dining until the state has lifted its color-coded risk-assessment framework, he said. The framework limits the maximum capacity of food and drink establishments to 75 percent of maximum capacity under the turquoise level of the framework. Doña Ana County and all other New Mexico counties are now in the turquoise, or least restrictive, level of the framework. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said the restrictions will be lifted when the state reaches 60 percent full vaccination of eligible adults, plus two weeks.

Corner Deli is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 575-523-4045. Visit https://corner-deli-lc.com/.

“It really does feel good,” Schaljo said, as Salud! and other restaurants and businesses re-open.

Schaljo said Salud! has more employees now than it did before the pandemic, and only lost one of its pre-Covid staff. Salud! is open 8 a.m. to  9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed Monday and Tuesday. Call 575-323-3548 and https://saludmesilla.com/.

Revolution 120 was “a very active charity during Covid,” Dickerson said, helping with food security and other issues as it “continues to help improve lives in Las Cruces,” she said. Next up for Revolution 120 is working with Families and Youth, Inc. on a teen housing project, Dickerson said.

“You have to create the solution,” she said. “You have to give from your heart.”

Contact The Game I, 2605 S. Espina St., at 575-524-4263. Contact The Game II, 4131 Northrise Drive, at 575-373-4263. Both are open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Visit www.thegamebarandgrill.com.

Catering