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South Lake Tahoe Restaurant Owner Shares Unique Challenges Of Being On The Border Of Nevada

Photo of outdoor dining at Gunbarrel Tavern and Eatery in South Lake Tahoe. A live band is performing on a stage. People are sitting at tables with drinks watching the performance.
Alex Cox and Marissa Scwartz
The Gunbarrel Tavern and Eatery is in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Before the pandemic, photographed above, owner Alex Cox says the business was bustling with diners. His business has been adhering to state mandates and operating with limited offerings.

California is lifting the current regional stay-at-home orders for the entire state Monday. More details are expected later today.

Prior to that, restaurants in California, like the ones in South Lake Tahoe, operated with more limitations than those that are just a short distance across the border in Nevada. Even though COVID-19 restrictions were eased in Greater Sacramento, which included Tahoe’s western shores on Jan. 12, the contrasting mandates between the two states have brought a mix of expectations from visitors.

One restaurant owner on the California border shares what it's like to balance the needs of serving communities across state lines.

Alex Cox has owned the Gunbarrel Tavern and Eatery located underneath the gondolas in Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe for more than seven years. Cox said that prior to the pandemic, his business was a bustling spot for food, drinks and lively entertainment.

“We really made our business on holiday crowds, weekend business, heavy ski resort traffic. [We] really did everything we could to get as many people in the door, many people to the bar, seat as many people as possible, and just try to be a busy restaurant,” Cox explained. “We [were] profitable, and now in the pandemic, it’s completely different.”

Across the border in Stateline, Nevada, indoor dining is open at a limited 25 percent capacity, which had not been the case in California during the state's most recent stay-at-home order. Cox said he takes public health mitigation efforts quite seriously, but since his business is a stone’s throw from Nevada, not all visitors clearly understand the various mitigation efforts imposed on each state.

“We have people that are staying in Nevada, where the rules allow you to eat inside. My restaurant is 200 yards away, inside the California border, where you're not allowed to eat inside. So people come over from the casinos, [where] they're allowed a lot more freedom, and once they get to us, they're confused and they're angry that they have to follow stricter guidelines,” Cox explained.

A man holding a newborn baby girl in a hospital. He is wearing a face mask and looking toward the camera.
Credit Alex Cox and Marissa Schwartz
During the pandemic, Alex Cox welcomed a baby girl. As a first-time father, Cox says he took the public health measures seriously. But since his business is a stone’s throw from Nevada, not all visitors clearly understand the various mitigation efforts imposed on each state.

This experience has been like walking on a “tightrope” for Cox, and the burden of asking people to adhere to guidelines can be onerous for much of his staff, many of whom have been weathering the economic rollercoaster since the start of the pandemic. But Cox isn’t planning to throw in the towel, despite the turbulence his industry has endured over the last year.

“We're going to stick through it and just see how everything plays out. I'm hoping that there's going to be a bounce back to restaurant and tourism and trying to get through it with as little damage to my staff,” said Cox.

The California Restaurant Association released a statement to its members Sunday night to inform them to expect an announcement of the easing of stay-at-home restrictions. California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to provide an update virtually at noon Monday.

Anh is a contributing editor for the KUNR news team and has been with the station since 2014. She is an alumna of the Boston University School of Public Health and Teachers College, Columbia University.
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