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Cinco De Mayo had pre-pandemic Charlotte showing up again

Thursday marked Cinco De Mayo, a celebration that calls for authentic Mexican cuisine and pitchers of margaritas.
Thursday marked Cinco De Mayo, a celebration that calls for authentic Mexican cuisine and pitchers of Margaritas.
Published: May. 6, 2022 at 5:28 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Two years of living life by the pandemic playbook has brutalized restaurants and bars across Charlotte, but the city is finally starting to look like itself once again.

Thursday marked Cinco De Mayo, a celebration that calls for authentic Mexican cuisine and pitchers of margaritas.

Three Amigos Mexican Restaurant in Plaza Midwood starts preparing for this day in February.

“It’s madness. Everybody shows up at the same time. Everyone is in a festive mood,” owner Dalton Espaillat said.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, most tables inside the Central Avenue staple were taken. A tent was set up outside to welcome the expected crowds.

“It feels very nice. I love it and want to enjoy the rest of the year like this,” Kwesha Austin said after finishing her margarita.

Espaillat, who owns nearly 20 other restaurants including multiple Sabor locations, admits the pandemic was a struggle.

“It was scary. It was a moving target,” he said.

Life before March 2020, however, is finally in view again. He says his biggest challenge now is keeping his restaurants staffed.

“Numbers-wise, things are back to pre-pandemic levels,” Espaillat said.

A few minutes away inside Plaza Midwood’s Legion Brewing, there’s a sense of relief.

“It’s lightyears different. There’s an energy, a buzz in the air,” Legion’s CEO Phil Buchy said.

Buchy built his Charlotte beer empire around gathering together, something that instantly suffered when people were pushed apart.

“It’s a very huge blessing to see everybody back in the taproom,” he said.

Reported COVID-19 case numbers have risen slightly in North Carolina, from 9,800 last week to roughly 12,500 currently. It’s nothing compared to mid-January numbers when cases soared into the 200,000s.

Two years of pandemic restrictions tested Legion financially, like nearly every other business that relies heavily on crowds. While there are signs of improvement, they’re still fighting to get back their pre-pandemic numbers.

“It’s been riding a rollercoaster. It’s been up and down for various reasons. We’re not through it yet. We’re getting through it as a community, as a family. It was definitely tough,” Buchy said.

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