Newt Sharp, the owner of Casa Montez, 2324 S. Range Line Road, was reluctant to talk to me about the future of one of the oldest restaurants on the strip. There's a reason for that — the future is too uncertain.

"I have no plan for the restaurant as long as this COVID-19 thing is causing all of this craziness," he said. "We are closed, but it's not permanent.

"I hope to be back in the cheese-dip business as soon as possible, but who knows when that will be. In the meantime, I'm keeping all of my options open," he said.

The property, which includes 2.4 acres, has been on the market since Sharp acquired it from longtime owner David Amayo in June 2018.

Casa Montez does not have a drive-thru window. Limited seating inside to accommodate social distancing would limit the restaurant's profitability if it were to reopen now.

It should be noted that the outlook nationwide for the continued operation of restaurants during this pandemic is in question. Some states that have reopened or partially reopened are now seeing spikes in virus cases, especially among young people. To curtail the spread, restaurants and bars in those states are being targeted for temporary closure.

Underlying this is new research that shows a person is much more likely to contract the virus while inside a restaurant or bar than outside of one — like 20 times more likely. It's a sobering fact.

Waiting this thing out as Sharp sees it might be the best option. In the meantime, he's making interior improvements to the property for when it eventually does reopen.

Casa Montez, which opened in 1965, was at one time the only place in Joplin where you could buy Mexican food. The original site was about where the Pizza Hut and Five Guys restaurants are now located on Range Line Road. The restaurant is known for its soft tacos and cheese dip as well as lunch buffet.

New bankruptcy

Chuck E. Cheese could be the latest company to fall victim to the pandemic.

CEC Entertainment, the parent company of the entertainment-and-pizza venue geared toward kids, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and plans to permanently close 34 locations that were open when the pandemic began.

The Chuck E. Cheese restaurant at Northpark Mall is not among those that will be closing, according to a list recently released by the company.

The company, based in Irving, Texas, has said it hopes to use the Chapter 11 process to shed debt and emerge as a more sustainable operation. As of Dec. 29, the company had more than 15,000 employees, 555 company-owned locations and 186 franchisee locations in 47 states and 16 foreign countries.

Off the path

From time to time, I check out things that are not on Range Line Road or Main Street. Based on recommendations from readers, I visited the new Rasoí-Indian Cuisine restaurant in the new Big Apple Travel Center at 2100 S. Prigmor Ave. To get there, hop on Interstate 44 and take the Prigmor exit, which is 3 miles east of Range Line.

The restaurant is in the travel center. The dining area is closed at this time, but you can place orders for carryout. When I was there last week, I was surprised by the number of people who were waiting in line to place an order to go. Many of them appeared to be familiar with the cuisine of India.

I ordered the butter chicken, the spicy version, and some garlic naan. The total bill came to about $17. You get enough food to easily feed two people. This is authentic Indian cuisine.

You are probably thinking: So what does Wally know about Indian cuisine? My only reference is a restaurant that I have frequented in Nederland, Colorado, called Kathmandu. The people who operate it are from Nepal. This is where I learned about saag and dishes like shrimp jalfrezi and shrimp vindaloo and chicken masala.

So take my word for it, the Rasoí is the real deal.

If you have news about something that’s happening on Range Line Road or Main Street, call 417-623-3480, ext. 7250; or send an email to wkennedy@joplinglobe.com; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at 417-623-8598.

Wally Kennedy is a reporter and columnist for The Joplin Globe.