March 19, 2020 / Modified mar 19, 2020 10:26 a.m.

Caruso's, other local restaurants counting on takeout and delivery to make it through virus

Restaurants have few options after Tucson adopted the White House's latests COVID-19 guidelines.

martin-take-out Martin Fontes installs a take out window in the doorway of Martin's Comida Chingona on March 18, 2020.
Jake Steinberg/AZPM

Fourth Avenue at lunchtime Wednesday recalled a ghost town.

Patios that are normally filled with hungry Tucsonans hosted only stacked chairs. Many of the storefronts were dark. In doorways, handwritten notes with promises of return. An empty streetcar whizzed by Martin's Comida Chingona.

"We’re trying to make the place sexy," said owner Martin Fontes after replacing his front door with an extremely red takeout window. He's offering curbside pick up and delivery, and he said that's not all he's doing.

"Somebody can ask me for catering for their house. I can make you a batch of beans, whatever you want to do. I am ready for negotiation at this point," he said.

Fontes, like every other restaurant, bar and business owner in Tucson, is figuring out how to make it through the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, Mayor Regina Romero joined Phoenix, Flagstaff and other cities across the country in banning dine-in service at restaurants and bars. The effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 exacerbates the losses for Tucson businesses after a week of event cancellations.

"It's devastating. There's no sugar coating it," said Ande Motzkin, owner of Caruso's Italian Restaurant. Many businesses on Fourth count on St. Patrick's Day and the Fourth Avenue Street Fair to offset the slower summer months, when many students and retirees typically leave Tucson.

"For all of us on the avenue and the downtown area [this week] was supposed to be one of the biggest weeks of the year. And it's turned out to be probably the worst and most devastating week of not just this year but probably the decade," she said.

Motzkin said she didn't get the business she hoped for on the first day of take out service, which she chalks up to the rainy weather and customers unaware Caruso's is still serving food — and maybe unsure if it's safe.

"For all of us on the avenue and the downtown area [this week] was supposed to be one of the biggest weeks of the year. And it's turned out to be probably the worst and most devastating week of not just this year but probably the decade" — Ande Motzkin, owner, Caruso's

There is currently no evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration. Food delivery apps Grubhub and Postmates recently introduced contact-free delivery, where they'll leave orders at your door.

The virus can temporarily survive on surfaces, but you can reduce your risk by following CDC guidelines like discarding packaging and then washing your hands for 20 seconds.

Motzkin said supporting local businesses through pickup and delivery is the only way to make sure they'll make it through the virus. And it supports their workers too. The loss of business means she's only able to give shifts to one quarter of her employees.

She says she's hoping the restrictions won't last longer than the current length of the restrictions — through the end March. "We'll be okay for two weeks. After that I'm going to start getting really worried," she said.

But Martin Fontes, of Martin's Comida Chingona, said he's preparing for restrictions to last much longer

"I'm going to make as much noise on the curbside as possible. I'm going to put up signs. I'm going to let people know as much as I can," he said. "And I’m damned if I’m going to let this restaurant fall after 19 years."

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero's office issued a statement Wednesday declaring parking spaces on Fourth Avenue, Main Gate, the Mission District and downtown be free for 15 minutes.

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