Dick’s patio open for business

Dick's back in the day
Dick’s in the early days

Dick’s has been around since 1940, managed and owned by the Dick Elias family. In 1974, the business was taken over by the Moore family and has, over 45 years since then, grown into a local favorite.

Owner Charlotte Moore, said Dick’s has evolved over the years from the liquor store, deli counter into a pub and restaurant.

“We have continued to reinvent Dick’s with the ever-changing times,” she said.

Dick’s has undergone several updates/remodels over the years. The three that created the most change happened in 1998. The owners built a two-story space over the parking lot as a two-level night club. The space is now the kitchen (bottom floor) and restaurant (top floor).

“In 2012 we acquired the Historic Serf Theatre adjacent to us, and in 2014 we restored it to house our special events venue, and finally in 2015 (five years ago), we transformed our liquor store/bar area from two areas to one room to house our pub/restaurant. The new pub area is cozy, brick walled reminiscent of an old historic building found in Chicago, New York, or Colorado,” Charlotte said.

Forward motion and innovative thinking could not overcome the unexpected reality of Covid-19.

“This has completely turned our business upside down, many new procedures are needed just to open daily,” she said. “Face masks are required as well as much disinfecting constantly, table condiments are eliminated, disposable menus are required. QR codes are used for menu access as well. Technology is the way of the future for sure!”

Food for thought
Food for thought

Just before the most recent closure to in-door dining, the Moore’s reupholstered many of their seating areas with virus-resistant fabric and increased to a higher level the percentage of disinfectant required in dishwashers, and running them at a higher temperature.

Now, the restaurant and pub customers are seated outside and served under a big tent placed on the sidewalk and parking spaces directly in front of Dick’s property. Social distancing is observed with tables spaced in keeping with health requirements. Masks are worn by patrons until they are seated for dining. Staff wears their masks all the time.

“We were only allowed 50 percent occupancy when we were serving inside. Our Venue (Historic Serf Theatre) is virtually non-existent since large gatherings are not allowed. This would have been one of our busiest years with weddings and graduation celebrations.

“Dining at Dick’s, for now, means being seated in our outdoor patio since indoor dining is prohibited under the current health restrictions. All tables/chairs have been strategically placed to assure social distancing. Condiments are available only in individual portions served on request. We have had difficulty getting crew to return. However, we have moved much of our venue crew to Dick’s to help with daily duties.”

Dick’s loyal patrons continue to accommodate to the changing rules at this popular eatery.

“We’d like our customers to be patient as we are conforming to special requirements. Many of us are running with a skeleton crew to provide our services. Things will be different for now and going into the future for the hospitality industry due to Covid-19,” she said.

“The most beneficial to me as a business person, is having such a great community to bounce ideas and advice on. Under Covid restrictions, daily tasks are a challenge.

“One great benefit is enjoying time in the kitchen – I call it ‘Back to Basics,’ which has given me control of so much – specifically recipes, labor and food costs. I have simplified my menu, which I hope will continue to bring my labor and inventory down as well as increasing our quality of food,” Charlotte said.

Her greatest concern moving forward is rebounding from closure for three months, becoming financially stable, and keeping staff and customers healthy.

“Throughout our 28 years here at Dick’s, we have had such a great crew working for us. They’ve become family/friends along the way, which has made Dick’s a special destination. We’d like to continue that tradition of providing a great place for celebrations of life. Cheers to many more years!”

Dick’s hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday – Saturday. For more about Dick’s, check out their website: dickspubandrestaurant.com

Sharon Vander Meer is an indie author of six books and two chap books of poetry. Check the BOOKS tab to find out more. Follow her at www.vandermeerbooks.com, https://www.facebook.com/vandermeerbooks, Amazon Author Central. Please like, share, or comment – or all three!


Tortillas, donuts and more, Oh My!

Charlie SandovalCharlie’s Spic and Span Bakery and Café is an established eatery owned by only three people during its more than 60-year history. Founded in the early 1950s, its primary offerings were chile and tamales. Carmen Fernandez expanded the bakery and added breakfast and lunch. In 1998 Charlie and Elizabeth Sandoval acquired the Spic & Span and have added fresh-made tortillas and increased the menu items. Its core reason for being is to serve customers Northern New Mexico cuisine and good old-fashioned comfort foods in a friendly atmosphere. Generous portions, fresh ingredients and friendly service are the standard.

COVID-19 brought everything to a screeching halt on March 15. Charlie’s, and many other businesses deemed non-essential, closed and their owners wondered what to do next, and what to do now that restrictions have been partially lifted.

Charlie, his trademark smile and optimism firmly in place despite what his business has been through, said, “I’m a lot slower, now. By 50 percent!”

That is somewhat a consequence of restrictions that limit restaurants to half their capacity, plus reluctance by some long-time customers to venture out.

Charlie’s was closed for two months, time spent on ongoing repair and maintenance and some sprucing up. He opted to start curbside pick-up service on May 15 and in-house dining on June 1.

Signs of the times
The sign on the left reads: STOP We wear our masks to protect you and your family. Please wear your mask to protect us and our families. Thank you, Charlie’s crew.

As a customer, you’re required to wear a mask to enter, sign in with your name and phone number, and wash your hands with a sanitizing solution. Of course, you can take off your mask once you sit down. Servers, however, must keep theirs on. If you’re ordering to-go, you’re asked to keep your mask on and observe social distancing (six feet apart).


Although Charlie’s Bakery and Café is now open for in-restaurant dining, the café is operating on reduced hours, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. “It’s been a slow start. I guess a little revenue is better than nothing. I’m trying to make good business decisions to benefit my employees and my operation.”

Donuts and moreOne program that has been of great help to the restaurant is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). “This program has really saved my business,” Charlie said.

“I want to thank my friends, customers and family for all their support and ask that they please bear with us on all these new changes. I have a lot of good customers and a lot of them are my good friends now. I hope one day we can be normal and operate freely like before, without so many restrictions.”

Charlie’s Bakery and Cafe continues to serve a full menu, has fresh tortillas daily, and dessert favorites like apple fritters, donuts, sugar cookies, biscochitos, cream puffs and more.

Charlie’s Bakery and Café
715 Douglas Ave.

NOTE: I am featuring local businesses, nonprofits, and organizations in this series of articles about how COVID-19 has affected our community . If you would like to participate, email fsharon@msn.com for more information.


Skillet Casting its Culinary Magic

From the Skillet website: Sometime in 2012, Isaac Sandoval was challenged to design and build the world’s largest cast iron skillet. The skillet itself didn’t break any world records but people loved the unique menus and crowd-pleasers cooked in the giant skillet. Thus, began the journey into food and pure wonderment of all things culinary. Isaac and Shawna set up shop in Vegas (NM) as a food truck, and two years ago went full brick and mortar in a historic building downtown. Skillet today is an immersive art, food, and drink experience.

How did they navigate the restrictions imposed by COVID-19? Below are Shawna’s responses to questions about the virus and its impact.

Artfully designed
The foodie entrepreneurs have not been idle during their down time. The Zen pool and new artwork are just some of the additions to the patio. That’s Shawna in the background.

“We were forced to close our doors March 15,” Shawna said. “Ourselves and our employees all went on unemployment directly after. Although the government left opportunity for restaurants to serve takeout, we made the decision that our efforts were best placed elsewhere.”

The fan-favorite foodie-friendly restaurant was closed for two and one-half months, reopening on June 1.

Shawna said the Skillet is reopened at 50 percent capacity because of mandates from health officials. “Our business hours are basically the same as before. We decided to cut our late-night menu for the time being, which so far gets us home earlier on the weekends.”

Looking to the future early on in the shutdown, the Sandovals set about making changes designed to add and enhance seating, and expand food options.

“We expanded our patio seating during the quarantine knowing that outdoor dining is considered substantially safer than indoor dining. Skillet has a large outdoor patio and our outdoor occupancy at 50 percent is 100 people. With the recent beautiful weather, Pizza anyonewe’ve been serving more customers outside, which was made possible because of the expansion. Our order-at-the-counter service is actually conducive to the “contactless” approach. We eliminated all duplicate menus and have just one menu for customers to see without touching, and our servers still bring all food and beverage to the customer. We have security staff for busy nights who remind people to sign our book at the door for the required contact tracing. Recently we’ve implemented digital temperature readings for all customers entering the restaurant. Employees that are in direct contact with the public are required to wear masks at all times.”

Like many businesses, the Skillet has taken advantage of stimulus programs geared toward small businesses.

“Through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), we are able to rehire and pay all our employees who went on unemployment for the quarantine. The grant portion of the loan will assist with our payroll while the business is getting back on its feet. This is particularly beneficial for restaurants such as ours as we employ around 20 people, a significant proportion of our operational costs.”

Operations day-to-day requires attention to detail and a willingness to work toward specific goals. Shawna and Isaac want to return to – and continue – the ambiance and atmosphere the Skillet has become known for. The young entrepreneurs are equally concerned about their business friends and neighbors.

Art Installation“In spite of uncertain times, we fully intend to provide the same fun and safe environment as we always have,” Shawna said.

“Please continue to spend money at local businesses in our community; our friends and neighbors have been more than gracious and we need to do everything in our power to make sure Las Vegas continues to thrive.”

Isaac and Shawna aren’t worried about the future so much as ready for new challenges. “As a relatively new business we are already accustomed to constantly evolving and changing things in our business per the market and trends. The COVID restrictions are just another hurdle to jump for us, although this is a difficult time for everyone, our newness works to our advantage.

“It’s one day at a time for now,” Shawna said. “This will most certainly change us and all restaurants in small ways forever, however, I remain optimistic with regards to the outcome.”

For more information about the Skillet, go to giant-skillet.com

Courtesy Photos: The Skillet

NOTE: I am featuring local businesses, nonprofits, and organizations in this series of articles about how COVID-19 has affected our community . If you would like to participate, email fsharon@msn.com for more information.


The Skillet: Fast-casual dining

The Skillet - Las Vegas, NMFor foodies on the go

Fans of The Skillet, get ready to chow down on old favorites and new menu items. The food truck with an attitude and funky decor is now a 90-seat restaurant and bar. The new digs will be open soon in the old wool warehouse on 12th Street. Radical decor and a trendy ambiance invite diners to sit awhile. Part of the renovation included the installation of an all new kitchen and overhaul of the electrical wiring. Through the construction and revitalization of the building, owner/operators Isaac and Shawna Sandoval oversaw the process and put their unique stamp on the eatery. As talented artists the Sandovals have created an experiential dining space in a fast-casual setting. They expect the restaurant will be open by the end of the month. In this Q&A, the couple talks about bringing their vision to life.

ORP: How did the ambiance and décor of The Skillet develop?
We approached the design of The Skillet as an art installation. We used the time we had during construction to make works of art for the restaurant. Shawna and I are both artists. We have different approaches to making art. A lot of how things turned out were a product of us working together. We also had a great crew of assistants and other artist working with us to execute our vision. We worked together to create an immersive art environment. We wanted to create a space that was different, a place where people could sit and interact with artworks without being in a high-pressure situation that I think sometimes happens when visiting a museum or gallery. Some of the art was built with specific intent to the space, and some was made, and then the space was built around it. The tile work on the bar, for instance, was an idea Shawna had to take some of the design from the food truck into the restaurant. Meanwhile, the eight-foot donkey bust that I made over the course of a couple of weeks, had no specific place in the building until we finally put it up. Really, the whole processes of making the art was quite fluid. One project would influence another, and it seems to have become a new body of artwork itself.
Shawna: Our background in the arts informs much of what we were able to create in the business. The overall design is a total collaboration between us. We tend to make decisions as we go, coming up with design solutions on the fly, or in other instances, taking time to plan out larger components. The goal for the overall feel of the place was to create something aesthetically pleasing with an enjoyable ambiance, but also something with a bit of an edge that makes looking around at the artwork part of the experience.

The Skillet Owner
Isaac and Shawna Sandoval

OPR: Your food from The Skillet Rolling Kitchen was along the lines of fusion cuisine rather than typical Northern New Mexico foods. Talk about how you developed the menu in the new restaurant.
Isaac: Northern New Mexican food is – in itself – a fusion food. Chile sauce often contains a roux, which is a French technique, and dishes that we call “Spanish” are Mexican. There was a time not too long ago, that we were part of Mexico. Northern New Mexican food was very much influenced by Mexican food but it is a different cuisine than American-Mexican (Tex Mex), and to paint the cuisine of Mexico with a broad brush would be like saying all American food is a cheese burger. There is something specific and special about the type of food that is prepared in the area.

My background in cooking is Northern New Mexican food. I love to eat and try new foods/ingredients. Because of my background, I know that you can put pretty much anything in a tortilla and it has the potential to be awesome. When planning our menu, we wanted something different, but relatable. Shawna and I really wanted a fun menu, that wasn’t too fussy or would take too long. Most of the items from our food truck menu will still be available, along with new burritos and an appetizer menu. Our menu has items guests will be able to share over a beer or get a fast bite.
Shawna: We wanted to stick with many of the same menu items offered at our food truck because it is the food that helped us develop our customer base to begin with. We are keeping the fast-casual aspect of the menu knowing our customers appreciated that they could get in and out quickly at lunch with a satisfying meal. We are expanding the menu quite a bit to include more appetizers, salads, and burrito creations with new flavor combinations.

ORP: Will it change seasonally or as you are inspired as chef?
Isaac: As a food truck, we tried to keep our regular menu items while integrating new or different items throughout the year. Once we get settled with the restaurant we plan on doing regular daily specials, and offer something different. For instance, every Friday we might have a chicken fried steak with coleslaw and Mac and cheese special but it might be wrapped into a burrito. At this point it’s hard to say, I am too excited. I think with having a bigger kitchen than the food truck kitchen, the possibilities really grow.

ORP: What advice did you get from your entrepreneurial parents that gives you confidence about opening your own place?
Isaac: My parents have been our biggest guidance throughout this whole project. They have years of experience in the industry and are very knowledgeable about restaurants. I have grown up watching them work day in and out, dealing with customers and see how they handle employees in a professional manner. I have worked for my parents for many years now; everything I know, I know because of them.
Shawna: Hard work equals success. It’s a tough business at times, but with owner dedication, the restaurant business can really be rewarding.

ORP: What influenced your decision to expand from the rolling kitchen concept to a brick and mortar restaurant?
Isaac: The major influence was the support we had. We were a food truck for three summers before we decided to fully commit to a restaurant. Every year we were open we grew a larger following and grew slowly, adding new art to the environment, and integrating live music. At the end of the day, we were really at the mercy of Mother Nature. During the monsoon, we would get rained out. In fall, winter could be five minutes away and last until the first week of June. It created an inconsistent schedule that was bad for business. When the opportunity to purchase a liquor license came up, we knew a brick and mortar restaurant and bar would be a good undertaking.
Shawna: We learned a lot about the food business with the food truck and we were ready to scale to something bigger. The new location is the manifestation of our need to see our dreams for our business fulfilled.

ORP: How many do you expect to employ?
Isaac: We will employ bartenders, kitchen staff, cocktail servers, security, and dishwashers, 20-30 in all.

ORP: What is your food philosophy in terms of fresh and locally sourced when possible?
Isaac: In a perfect world everyone would be buying direct from local farmers. In that world, we would be eating green chile, squash, onions, some peppers and beef or lamb. In that same world, we wouldn’t be eating guacamole or sushi. When the food truck was open, we used locally raised eggs, which I loved, but near the end of the summer the chickens had a hard time producing enough eggs for the truck. I try to go to the farmers’ market on a weekly basis and buy what I can, but at the volume our food truck produced we had to outsource. That said, we do prepare most of our dishes from scratch or make them as fresh as possible.

ORP: What appeals to you about being a culinary entrepreneur?
Isaac: I love working with my hands. I love that cutting a case of tomatoes can become a meditation. I love that the situation in a kitchen can go from 0-100 in a matter of minutes. I love the rush of getting long tickets coming out of the printer. I love taking an ingredient and changing it into something completely different.
Shawna: We grew up in the business, Isaac with his family here in Las Vegas. My very first of many restaurant jobs was washing dishes. After graduating college, there was something about the business that kept pulling us back in. We love the challenges and being our own boss. Seeing our vision make people happy, creates a lot of satisfaction for us.

OPR: What are your hours of operation?
Isaac: We will be opening at 11 a.m. ’til close, Monday through Saturday.

ORP: Will reservations be recommended?
Isaac: Our restaurant is a fast-casual environment. We can seat about 90 people in the restaurant and 25 of those seats are at the bar. Outside, our two patios can seat another 50 plus a standing bar. We will be a different dining experience than what some might be used to. Customers order at the counter; we will not have servers. We will have cocktail servers to take drink orders and bring food out. We will also take call-in orders to go. We want The Skillet to be a place where people can get something delicious fast and easy.

ORP: What are examples of specialty drinks you will serve?
Isaac: We have a wide variety of really refreshing margaritas and cocktails. One example of a cocktail we offer is the Red Dawn, made with hibiscus tea, tequila, and grapefruit juice.

ORP: Do you plan to have live music/entertainment?
Isaac: Last year we had a band or musician playing once a week for most of the summer. We are reaching out to local talent, and traveling bands to play throughout the year. If anyone is interested in playing or performing they can email us a sample of their work at Giantskillet@gmail.com or contact us on our website www.giantskillet.com

ORP: What is your anticipated opening day.
Isaac: If everything goes as expected, we will open by the end of the month.


The skinny on The Skillet:

What: The Skillet
Location: 612 12th St., Las Vegas, NM
Phone: 505-563-0477

Website: www.giantskillet.com
Instagram: @giantskillet
Facebook: The Skillet: Rolling Kitchen and Catering
Donkey image: Courtesy photo