One Prince Rupert restauranteur is prepared to open under the new four-stage public health reopening schedule, but he is also prepared to stay closed to indoor dining, while others rush to prepare for an opening with only a day’s notice.
On May 25 the provincial government announced a phased reopening plan where dining establishments can reopen with tables restricted to six patrons and alcohol served until 10 p.m.
Despite waiting and watching for an inkling that dining restrictions would be lifted, Prince Rupert business owner of the Sunset Lounge and Grill, Paul Minhas said it’s beginning to sound like a broken record.
“I’m prepared to open, but I’m prepared to stay closed for a while because we’ve been through this before, throughout the entire pandemic,” he said. “I’m personally just tired of trying to open and close, open and close.”
Minhas said the government has disrespected the work that happens in the hospitality industry with the short notices of closures and reopenings, and the back and forth. He has taken the time to renovate the interior of his restaurant so it can be upscaled for grand relaunch when the health restrictions are all clear.
He said in March when the hospitality industry was basically shut, he was prepared to do that because he was already fed up with the back and forth.
“There was no structure. We would make plans and then have to throw them out the window, make more plans then throw those out the window. It was a disrespect of the work we do … when it comes to the action of the work, it just feels draining.”
Minhas is not the only hospitality professional in the city upset with how the industry has been handled by the government throughout the pandemic.
Executive Chef Jason Zimmer of Breakers Pub and Restaraunt said the government is not ‘serving it right’. The hospitality industry has received the short end of the stick throughout the whole pandemic despite following all of the rules and restrictions, he said.
He questions why restaurants have been subject to such short notices of closures and new restrictions when the contact tracing, mask-wearing, and adherence to cleaning protocols is much more strict in a dining establishment than it is in a store, for example.
“So regarding the short notice, I feel as though [the government and health authorities] don’t understand what’s involved in the business,” he said. “They say ‘you can open tomorrow’, but we don’t have any product. We don’t have fresh lettuce, we don’t have fresh this, we don’t have refresh that. So, it just doesn’t work.”
Zimmer said the restaurant’s food order takes at least three days to process as it comes from Vancouver. He has to have the order in by Friday for a Tuesday delivery. This week, he wouldn’t have been able to open on Tuesday because the order didn’t arrive until after the restaurant’s lunch hours began. At the last restaurant shut down in March, he said they lost more than $800 worth of food products due to the short notice of closure.
“We need to do $2,400 in food sales just to recoup that $800. That’s just the way the cost margin is.”
On top of the short notice affecting food supply orders, he said staffing is an issue.
“Hospitality, in general, is one of the big ones that are affected by short notice shutdowns. We are the people that suffer the most,” he said. He wants the government and health officials to know that the industry can’t work on such short notice.
“You can’t just tell them with 10 hours’ notice that they can open tomorrow,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
At the first shut down during the pandemic he said, staff were very loyal and did return, but after very limiting restrictions were imposed, reduced working hours, and then another shutdown, many staff didn’t return the second time due to the uncertainty of the industry.
Zimmer said he did have the forethought to contact staff early, and had been in constant communication to keep them apprised of the opening situation. He managed to call in eight staff for a Wednesday opening, but has lost staff as well because they have had to find other jobs to support their children and feed their families during the shutdown period.
“It was the second time in a year these people have been pushed out of work. We don’t know that we are not going to be shut down next week again.”
“It took eight guys running their asses off for us to get ready to open due to the short notice,” the chef said. ” And that’s what the government doesn’t get, is you can’t just say ‘OK, go ahead and open’, especially in the north.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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