Rio Rancho restaurants hail end of mask mandate

“Hallelujah! It’s time! Wait! What else can I say?”

Karen Johnson Bey
owner of K’Lynn’s Southern & Cajun Fusion restaurant

News that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted the mask mandate in New Mexico on Thursday spread like wildfire within minutes of her announcement.

The Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce issued an email alert to its members: “We have good news to share! Effective immediately, New Mexico’s mask mandate is over.

In white characters on a black background, the New Mexico Restaurant Association simply announced: “Mask Mandate lifted”.

Both had links to news stories. Here is ours: https://rrobserver.com/gov-lifts-mask-mandate/

Said Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, which represents more than 1,000 restaurants statewide, “I’m sure restaurants will be encouraged by this governor’s announcement.”

Carole Wight

“We saw a significant drop in customer numbers when the mask mandate was launched last August,” she said. “As Omicron levels were decreasing, we were starting to see people returning to indoor dining. We hope this will continue this trend. It certainly signals that the end is in sight.

Karen Johnson-Bey, owner of K’Lynn’s Southern & Cajun Fusion restaurant, was a bit more emotional.

“Hallelujah! About time. Wait. What else can I say?” she says.

Johnson-Bey added that customers or staff who wish to wear masks can still do so, but they will no longer be required.

“We’ve all had enough of this nonsense,” she said. “Were happy.”

Nico Ortiz, owner of Turtle Mountain Brewing Co., which has two restaurants in Rio Rancho, said he was shocked to receive the alert from the state’s restaurant association.

“I think it’s excellent,” he said. “This governor was quick to impose warrants and very reluctant to lift them. I’m pretty sure no one anticipated it.

For restaurant workers, he said, the masks were a problem because their work environment was hot and it was difficult to breathe through them. And trying to enforce the mask mandate “has always been a problem,” he said.

While Ortiz said he’s not sure lifting the mandate will translate to improved results, the restaurant experience will be more positive. Customers, he said, “would see that we’re maybe at the end of this whole mess that started in March 2020. It’s going to be nice to see people’s faces.”

Customers and employees can still wear their masks if they prefer, he said.

“I’ve never been a fan of masks. I’m fully vaccinated and boosted, but if the governor doesn’t require my employees to wear masks, neither do I,” Ortiz said.

For Destiny Schermerhorn, owner of The Hopper pub and pizzeria, the announcement was completely unexpected. The Hopper has a restaurant in Rio Rancho and one in Albuquerque.

“I feel like it happened abruptly, kind of like it came out of nowhere,” she said. “It’s definitely going to help my bottom line. It’s one step closer to normality.”

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