LGBTQ-owned eatery No Mas! gives back during tough times

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No one would blame Walt Bilinski and Steve MacNeil if they laid low after losing 90 percent of sales at No Mas! Cantina back in March. Instead, they rose to the occasion of quarantine in some impressive ways.

“During lockdown, we focused on being what the community needed during that time,” said Bilinski, who founded the Mexican restaurant and adjacent arts emporium with MacNeil in 1996. “We knew we weren’t the only business suffering and that our community was hurting as well.”

Like many local eateries, they opened for delivery and takeout. They also offered grocery delivery by tapping their supply chains, even as grocery stores went dry on some items.

“We also started a ‘Feed the Front Line’ campaign and donated a meal for every meal that was purchased,” Bilinski added. “On Cinco de Mayo, usually our busiest day of the year, we donated 2,020 meals to essential workers and front-line workers.”

“Focusing on doing what we could for our staff and community is what kept our spirits up and kept us opening the doors day after day,” he said.

Giving back wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but it was the right move for No Mas!, Bilinski added.

“Like many other businesses, the pandemic shutdown struck us very hard,” Bilinski said. “Along with the health implications of COVID-19, we were certainly stressed about the financial wellbeing of our businesses and staff. It was incredibly difficult during the lockdown. We experienced a 90 percent decrease in sales during that time.”

‘Part of the uniform’

No Mas! reopened under state guidelines in the summer. Revenues improved, and safety became second only to “great food and service,” according to Bilinski.

“We wanted people to be able to come to No Mas! and relax and enjoy the experiences they had come to expect before the pandemic,” he said. “We only seat the restaurant at half capacity, so we highly encourage reservations.”

Employees remain masked at all times, and patrons must wear them when not actively eating and drinking. Look for hand-sanitizing stations throughout the establishment and consistent re-cleaning of common surfaces.

“You will notice that there will be lots of space between the guests and that social distancing is maintained,” the owner said. “We will continue to practice all the additional safety measures until we are certain that our staff and guests will be safe, so masks will probably be part of the uniform for a while.”

“Most people have been very supportive of the changes we have made and feel safe dining in our restaurant and shopping in the Artisan Market,” he added.

Bilinski said that everyone at No Mas! is hopeful for the future, despite a rough year.

“We are definitely ready for things to get back to the way they were before the pandemic,” he said. “We know as long as we keep putting people first and doing the best we can for our community and staff that things will work out.”

With a Castleberry Hill location convenient to concerts and pro sports, No Mas! looks forward to serving margaritas and fajitas before and after events.

“It may not be tomorrow, next week or next month, but everything will get back to the way it was,” Bilinski promised. “And we will be here, ready to celebrate with you.”

No Mas! Cantina & Artisan Market is at 180 Walker St. SW. Visit the restaurant and shop online or call 404-574-5678.

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