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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Here's How Some Restaurants Are Celebrating Cinco De Mayo In A Global Pandemic

La Poblanita Mexican Restaurant & Candy Store

When people think of celebrating Cinco De Mayo these things typically come to mind: Margaritas, tacos, and chips and salsa. Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic has changed things. It has reduced restaurants and bars to carry-out only and forcing some to close.

Julio Castenella owns La Poblanita Mexican Restaurant and Candy Store in southwest Charlotte. Since the pandemic began business has dropped 80%, but so far things have looked up. 

“Today has been a little bit better, just because we’ve made a lot of family meals and big trays for families and corporate,” said Castenella. “We have a lot of businesses that keep supporting our small business by ordering food for their employees.”

Castenella has been in business for 14 years and employs nearly 30 people. He had to let many of his employees go, and the pandemic has permanently changed the way he does business.

“We’ve been trying to keep ourselves alive by implementing new techniques and I think this shows a lot of restaurants a new way to do business,” he said.

Family-owned restaurants like his own don’t have a drive-thru and resources like fast food chains, said Castenella, but this pandemic has taught him a lesson.

“This has taught us how to do those things on a real quick basis,” he said.

Fewer than 10 miles away across the border in South Carolina, Charanda Mexican Restaurant of Fort Mill is gearing up for an evening of celebration with a DJ, live music and food and drink specials all on the patio.

Maleah Smith has been a bartender there for seven years. They plan to make the best of the situation, said Smith. 

“We are still social distancing,” said Smith, “but we’re trying to still party for Cinco De Drinko.”

Unlike North Carolina, South Carolina is letting restaurants to open for outdoor seating. Smith is excited about opening the patio, but she understands some people are worried

“All of our staff we’re wearing gloves, we’re wearing masks we obviously haven’t been touching each other. We’re very sanitary, we spray,” she said.

It’s been a struggle for Smith to go weeks without working, so when she got the call to come in for Cinco De Mayo she was thrilled.

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Sarafina Wright is the "All Things Considered" producer for WFAE 90.7 Charlotte’s NPR Source. Before coming to WFAE, she worked as a political correspondent for EBONY.com, staff writer at the Washington Informer and editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge in Washington, DC. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Howard University. When she's not writing professionally, Sarafina can be found blogging at www.sarafinasaid.com or hanging out with her book club, Charlotte West.