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Restaurants and bars had to adapt to survive amid COVID-19 pandemic

(Facebook photos/Rusconi’s American Kitchen, Cobra Arcade Bar)

This story is part of KTAR News’ “Pandemic in Arizona: One Year In” special report on 92.3 FM, online and our app.

PHOENIX – Restaurants and bars across Arizona had to constantly adapt or risk going out of business amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to closures and continuing restrictions from state and health leaders, two business owners told KTAR News 92.3 FM it has been a challenge to keep their businesses alive.

“Owning your own businesses is difficult as it is, but having to deal with the pandemic, it has obviously been a big obstacle for us,” Ari Bracamonte, owner and co-founder of Cobra Arcade Bar in downtown Phoenix, said.

Before the pandemic struck, Cobra Arcade was known for long lines, a crowded dance floor and dozens of arcade games at the disposal of patrons. After voluntarily closing at the beginning of the first Arizona COVID-19 surge, the bar is now a much more toned-down version of what it once was.

“It’s challenging to train the patrons that know us as a place to dance and move around and play games into sitting down and having to treat this place like a seat-in experience,” he said.

The bar installed plastic barriers, now serves pizza and had to remove dozens of games to make room for tables and chairs. Aside from that, Bracamonte now asks his employees to test for the virus frequently to ensure the bar is safe for employees and patrons.

At Rusconi’s American Kitchen in northeast Phoenix, owner Micahel Rusconi said he had to put chairs and tables into storage to keep up with health protocols.

Despite Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent order lifting occupancy requirements, both businesses are still only able to operate at 50% capacity since they continue to follow social distancing guidelines and space does not allow them to safely allow more people in.

Rusconi described his overall experience amid the pandemic as one of the most difficult things he’s done, but it wasn’t so much the pandemic’s impact on his restaurant.

Instead, he was concerned about his employees’ well-being.

“I care about all the employees that we have in the building,” Rusconi said. “It was important to me that they didn’t struggle financially.”

The reservation-driven restaurant now has takeout orders as an option and imposed a 2-hour limit on reservations, only opening its doors Wednesday through Sunday Night.

Now with the arrival of vaccines, both owners have high hopes for the future.

“I hope to be right where we were before the pandemic started,” Rusconi said. “Robust business, extremely popular award-winning restaurant that people really appreciate.”

At Cobra Arcade, Bracamonte yearns to once again see people dancing, playing video games and having fun.

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