Blazers games bring in a steady crowd, as restaurants adhere to strict rules in the pandemic
There was a family of four, all decked out in Blazer gear, sitting at the table just in front of the big screen in the restaurant Thursday night.
Tables were separated by the required distances. Some were open. Others had a couple people. Another table, on the other side of the restaurant far from the others, had five people in front of a screen. That’s the maximum.
They were there for food. They were there to watch the game. Some were there just to actually get out and try to enjoy themselves.
Main Event Sports Grill is doing what every other restaurant is trying to do these days: Survive.
At half capacity, with strict rules on how many can be at one table, and who can be at the table, and with many potential customers still not sure about going out for an evening, surviving has its challenges.
“It’s a different time we’re living in,” said Mike Llorente, co-owner of Main Event.
In 2019, when the Portland Trail Blazers made it to the Western Conference Finals, the restaurant tables were full and the bar was standing room only.
Now in the 2020 playoffs, the Blazers have been hot (not counting Thursday’s game), and the Main Event is open. Families are welcome in the restaurant, and the 21-and-over crowd has the bar.
Live sports certainly help. The Blazers winning helps even more. The Trail Blazers beat the Lakers in Game 1 of their playoff series on Tuesday.
“It was steadier than it normally has been,” Llorente said.
“Post-COVID normal,” added Jason Pinney, the general manager. “It was a decent Tuesday, but nothing compared to last year. I had pretty good bar business. But I only had four tables out on my floor, and I have an 80-inch TV. Normally, playoffs, versus the Lakers, every table would have been full.”
All restaurateurs are feeling the effects of the pandemic. The sports-centric eateries have been hit in more than one way. No March Madness. No traditional baseball schedule.
“The first live sport that I know of that came back was professional cornhole,” Pinney said. “I had people in here watching cornhole like it was the Super Bowl. ‘Live sports. I don’t care.’”
“They were soaking it in,” Llorente said.
Now, there is playoff basketball, playoff hockey, and regular season baseball.
Still, there are restrictions in the restaurant business.
The Main Event in east Vancouver has a normal capacity of 275 or so seats. With table spacing and limited capacity measures, the restaurant is down to 130 or so seats. Only five can sit at one table, and that is supposed to be only if from the same household.
“That’s a killer there,” Llorente said. “You drove over in the same car, but you can’t sit at the same table?”
The staff at Main Event work to follow the rules and help their customers. They will seat friends in tables near each other, but with the proper spacing between tables.
Llorente and Pinney also understand the restaurant business also has to do its part to assure the public that it is safe.
“I get it. We understand it. We’re going to play by the rules. We’re going to take it seriously,” Pinney said. “The sooner it gets better, we get better.”
How long will that take? Nobody knows the answer to that.
“I don’t know how many restaurants have already closed and how many will close by the end of this,” Pinney said. “It’s a big number. We’re not making money. We can survive. If we can weather it, we’ll come out on the end of this. Pretty much every restaurant that’s operating, we’re all in the same place. It’s survival.”
For a sports-themed restaurant, the NFL is right around the corner and still scheduled to play. And the NBA playoffs just started.
In this market, if the Trail Blazers can go on a long run, that would help, too.
There are two Main Event locations. The eastside, which has more space, opened in 2013. Llorente, who has been in the restaurant business in Clark County for 30 years, opened the downtown location in 2010. Llorente was working downtown on Tuesday when the Blazers beat the Lakers in Game 1.
“We were full, but full means 50 people,” he said, noting that under normal circumstances, that location could seat more than 100 people. “It’s tough. We just kind of call it survival mode.”
Making it even tougher, the rules are different just a few miles south.
“Another challenge for us, it’s 10 people and no household requirement just across the river,” Pinney said, referring to Oregon’s pandemic requirements.
For now, Washington restaurants are doing their part to hang on, hoping for a better future, and soon.
Main Event is open. The rules are being followed. The big games are on the TVs.
“I don’t want to beg, but please come out,” Pinney said with a laugh, in a half-joking, half-serious kind of way.
The NBA playoffs are here. The NFL is less than a month away from starting its season. And the sports-themed restaurants that are open would appreciate your fandom.
Note: Restaurant goers are encouraged to call or go to the websites of their favorite places to check on hours and availability.