By Kayla Anderson
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic many Sparks restaurants have experienced a drop in business or have had to change course completely to comply with Governor Steve Sisolak’s orders. While some have been forced to shutter their doors for the time being, others continue to serve customers with curbside delivery and takeout options.
One such restaurant that has managed to stay alive is Casale’s Halfway Club, the oldest family-owned restaurant in Nevada. Established in 1937, Casale’s is currently open 11a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is operating with two cooks and a couple of employees who answer the phones, put in their orders, and take them out to people’s vehicles donning masks and gloves.
“We wash our hands and disinfect everything after every order,” a Casale’s employees says.
Casale’s still offers its full menu of Italian fare including pizzas, raviolis, and sandwiches, and most of their regulars already know the menu by heart.
“We’ve been really fortunate. Some days we’re doing about 30-35 percent of our regular business but other days it’s around 60 percent,” says Casale’s Co-owner Tony Stemteck.
The hardest part of the coronavirus situation is how it is affecting the older members of the Casale’s family who are used to being an integral part of the restaurant’s daily operations.
For instance, before the coronavirus upheaval, the Casale’s matriarch, 93-year-old Inez Casale-Stemteck, was a permanent fixture at Casale’s but is currently in self-quarantine.
“We have a number of people in this category who are greatly affected by this. My mom (Inez) is 93 years old, my aunt and uncle are in their late 80s, and I have a daughter with cystic fibrosis- she’s in the worst and most vulnerable category,” Tony says. He adds that his mother has been in self-isolation for about 20 days, his daughter for 27 days or so.
When asked how Inez is coping with the pandemic, Tony replies, “My mom is pissed off. Imagine having a place to go to every day for 83 years…she was 10 when the restaurant opened. She oversees everything and calls all the shots, so right now she’s in a bad mood.”
However, Inez has been keeping her family busy by providing a long list of necessities, whether that’s a salami sandwich, lasagna, or KFC.
“The only way to satisfy my mom is through her stomach, and luckily that’s easy enough to do,” Tony says.
Casale’s has had to furlough two workers- one with kids who are now stuck at home and one who previously worked limited hours. “But everyone else has been keeping busy, even our dishwasher,” Tony says. He also feels like in this new era Casale’s has changed from being a restaurant into a food truck.
“We go out there with gloves and masks, it’s so different then what it used to be,” he says.
He adds that a company that services the local hospitals comes in and mists the restaurant twice a week with sanitizer and that even though the dining area is closed staff is still cleaning the bathrooms and wiping down everything constantly.
However, Casale’s owners went through a lot in the last 83 years to keep the restaurant alive, weathering storms such as the Great Depression, World War II, and the 23 months of Fourth Street road construction (which Inez comically said was the biggest Casale’s hurdle when she was inducted into the Sparks High School Hall of Fame in 2018).
“She was even widowed at 43 years old with six kids,” Tony says.
When asked which hardship the current coronavirus impact could best be compared to, Tony says that he wasn’t alive to know what World War II was like, then laughed and said that the Fourth Street road construction project was pretty rough. However, Tony takes on a more somber tone and admits that he’s concerned about his fellow Sparks restauranteurs.
“After this we’re going to see a shift in the local restaurant business, I worry for a lot of the restaurants that are living month to month. For 83 years we’ve been blessed with the loyalty (at Casale’s). We’re comfortable, we’re strong, and it can get a person down going to the grocery store but it’s a blessing to come here and see how kind and generous people are. So many people are buying gift certificates which doesn’t require anything on our end yet helps our cash flow.
“Right now, everyone has to do their part to support local business but stay home and protect your family. Our elders are not expendable. None of us would live the same quality of life without them.
“I think it’s important to stay relevant in all of this, do your part and it’ll pay off in the end.”