A Reno Chef Transitions during the Pandemic but Remains Wary

Isaac Hoops reports on a young local chef who is rebounding despite all the uncertainties still threatening the health of the local restaurant industry.

24-year-old Shawn Neff has been working as a professional chef for over eight years. He has worked at several Reno restaurants, and was the sous-chef of the Italian restaurant Calafuria when the pandemic hit.

“The amount of things I had to do definitely dropped. Business just instantly tanked,” Shawn Neff remembers of the start of the pandemic about one year ago.

Luckily, about one month before closures began, Calafuria, the Italian restaurant on Center St., where Neff was employed, had begun serving takeout orders through food delivery services such as DoorDash. This made for a smooth transition to serving takeout full time.

As sous-chef, or second in command, Neff was able to continue working during the start of the pandemic. He and the head chef/owner would split the time in the kitchen, preparing takeout orders.

“Even once dine in was allowed [per the governor’s mandate], we still just didn’t feel safe doing that. So we continued doing takeout,” Neff said.

It was around the end of August 2020 when the amount of work really slowed down. “I just stopped getting hours,” Neff said. “We would basically take turns running the restaurant because there didn’t need to be more than two people there.”

Shortly thereafter, Calafuria stopped serving takeout altogether. “Fancier places really don’t do well with to go food–some of that stuff doesn’t travel very well, and it’s expensive.”

At this point, Neff stepped down from his position.

“Thankfully I’m fairly responsible with money, so having enough savings to comfortably do that and not have to worry made it pretty nice,” he said.

Neff spent much of his time away from the restaurant industry like others did during quarantine; reading and perfecting his sourdough recipe. However his break was short lived. After about three months he found a new position as a chef, this time at the Bricks restaurant and wine bar located on South Virginia Street.

On March 15, Nevada’s Governor Steve Sisolak raised restaurant capacity from 35 percent to 50 percent, meaning more and more diners could soon be coming back, but Neff is still wary.

“I’m definitely uncomfortable–It’s kind of like counting your eggs before they hatch,” he said.

Reporting by Isaac Hoops for the Reynolds Sandbox

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Reynolds Sandbox

Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.