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Reopening Nevada: Story of Santa Fe Basque Hotel Restaurant

Manager Gaven Sarratea wipes down the bar in preparation to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manager Gaven Sarratea wipes down the bar in preparation to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.(KOLO)
Published: May. 11, 2020 at 4:38 PM PDT
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Finding a new normal during Nevada's phase one to reopen.

One of the hardest hit restaurants is probably the Santa Fe Basque Hotel at 235 Lake Street next to Harrah's Casino and Greater Nevada Field.

The pandemic is forcing the owner, manager, and head chef to alter Basque eating traditions that were thousands of years in the making.

Before customers who didn't know each other would sit together at long tables to share a meal. It's a tradition that started at the 235 Lake Street location in 1949.

"It used to all be family style big long tables. You know 20, 30 people. People didn't know each other sitting next to each other sharing food. Sharing wine," said Manager, Gaven Sarratea. "I used to come in here as a kid so much and now I come in as a manager. It's just it feels like home," he continued.

Reopening after a more than year long remodel in 2017 revealed the attachment some people have to this location.

Owner Dennis Banks remembers seeing a woman in her 90's walk in. "She actually had to grasp the wall and apparently the church in the photograph on the bar as well as the flag on the wall are from her home town. She just started bawling it was really emotional."

Emotional because Basque dining is about more than just food.

"How will the dining experience be different for your customers when they come back?" asked Bond.

"Now-a-days with social distancing it's just not going to happen and we are lucky to have a very big space. So we have tables, six feet apart or more. Everyone is going to be very spread out. There is no longer going to be family style so you're not going to share anything. Before it was seven options. Heavy steaks. Heavy meat," said Sarratea.

The menu now offers foods that don't take so long to eat because socializing will obviously be reduced with the required social distancing measures in place.

"Shrimp salad, quesadillas, and we do have basque sandwiches. Chorizo, sandwiches, we have burgers things that like," said Sarratea.

When customers go back they're not going to see a smile. Instead they'll see workers wearing masks.

"It's not going to feel how it used to, but people are still going to be able to come in eat their food. Enjoy picon punch safely and that's what we're going for is safety," said Sarratea.

The Santa Fe Basque Hotel Restaurant is scheduled to reopen Tuesday, May 19.

You can make a reservation, which is a requirement to dine at this establishment by calling 775-499-5263 or emailing Gaven@santafereno.com.

The new hours are Tuesday to Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The first 20 people each day will get free picon punch. It contains alcohol and is the Restaurant's signature drink.

The owner and manager say they did not have to make any layoffs, but hours will likely be reduced until things are completely back to normal.

Banks owns three other restaurants in Reno. They include Mexcal at 516 South Virginia Street, and two Napa-Sonoma gift shops and restaurants. One is located at North 550 West Plumb Lane and the other is located at 7671 South Virginia Street.

The Santa Fe Basque Hotel was first opened in 1949 by Joe Zubillaga. It was a boarding house at that time for sheep basque sheep herders who immigrated from Europe to find a better life. They would live in the rooms above the restaurant and come down to eat at night for dinner. The tradition continued for years.

Zubillaga sold the restaurant and it was later purchased and reopened by Banks. He kept the restaurant's original colors and bar to honor the basque history in Reno, but updated the floors and deep cleaned the establishment before reopening in 2017.

Sarratea father is one of the basque sheep herders who immigrated from Spain at the age of 18. Sarratea was born and raised in Reno where he now carries on the traditions his father taught him.

Banks says Bill Harrah tried to buy the Santa Fe Restaurant Hotel to tear it down, but Zubillaga would not accept an offer. This is the reason the casino today wraps around the establishment.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020

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