LAS VEGAS >> When Gino Ferraro opened a restaurant in Las Vegas about 35 years ago, he worked grueling hours with little help to get the fledgling business off the ground.
Now, after cutting back on staff to make up for lost business from the coronavirus pandemic, he finds Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar in a similar position.
“When we started, we worked almost 20 hours per day,” Ferraro told the Las Vegas Sun . “That’s what we’re doing now. My wife is making pastries … We’re basically back to when we started.”
Across the restaurant industry in Las Vegas, things are dire, said Elizabeth Blau, co-owner of Honey Salt, a restaurant near the northwest Summerlin neighborhood.
“There’s only so long that restaurant operations can stay in business,” said Blau, who also runs Blau and Associates, a restaurant consulting firm.
“On average, we’re a single-digit profitability business,” she said. “Something’s going to have to give. We need help.”
Ferraro, whose restaurant east of the Las Vegas Strip depends heavily on tourists, said he has cut his staff of about 75 to fewer than 20 employees.
“I had to let go people that were with me for 25 years,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the doors open while minimizing expenses.”
The number of visitors to Las Vegas has plummeted since casinos reopened June 4 after a state-mandated shutdown in mid-March to help contain the spread of the virus.
Restaurants also closed in March, but Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak relaxed some restrictions in May. Last month, he limited restaurant dining to parties of no more than six people.
Las Vegas visitor volume for June was down 70% from the same month last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
State social distancing regulations also dictate that restaurants can only operate at 50% capacity.
For Ferraro, all of that has translated into a 75% decline in business.
He said he received a forgivable government loan earlier this year to cover payroll and other basic business expenses. But another round of assistance is needed, he said.
Nationally, three in five restaurants need help to stay open, according to the James Beard Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that supports culinary arts.
Blau said restaurant owners also need help from landlords to ease rent payments.
“Fixed costs, nobody wants to reduce anything. It’s devastating,” Blau said. “We’re fighting for the survival of our industry right now.”
Ferraro was set to open a restaurant at the new Allegiant Stadium, but the NFL’s Raiders announced they will play without fans in the stands. It’s unclear when the stadium will open for other events such as concerts.
His Pizza Forte shops at T-Mobile Arena and Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin are also shuttered until sports and entertainment venues reopen.
“I think 50% of the restaurants in the tourist corridor will not survive,” Ferraro said. “We have a tough road ahead of us in Vegas.”
Joseph Nedel, the laid-off operations director for the Mabel’s BBQ and Sara’s eateries at the shuttered Palms, said more than 120 of his employees lost their jobs when the off-Strip casino-hotel closed in March.
Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Red Rock Resorts, parent company of the Palms, said the company is unsure when or if the property will reopen.
“It’s all wait-and-see right now,” Nedel said.
Las Vegas-based Fifth Avenue Restaurant Group has more than 30 quick-serve food court restaurants at Strip resorts and a handful of full-service restaurants in Las Vegas.
Of about three dozen locations, 25 are open, company CEO Frank Bonanno told the Sun. Seven restaurants are open only on weekends. The company furloughed about 850 employees in March, and about 500 of them are now back on the job.
“It’s been tough,” Bonanno said. “We’re forecasting it will take 18 to 36 months to get back to pre-COVID-19 business levels.”
For now, he said, “we’re trying to survive.”