OLDS — The owners of numerous restaurants and bars in Olds and Sundre say they plan on staying open to dine-in service despite the return to Step 1 health protocols announced earlier this week by the provincial government.
At least five restaurants and bars in Olds as well as four or five in Sundre say they're going to defy the province’s latest COVID-19 restrictions by staying open for dine-in service.
On Tuesday, the government announced that the province was returning to Step 1 of the four-step framework for reopening. Under Step 1, among other measures, indoor, in-person restaurant, pub, lounge and cafe service is prohibited, while takeout, delivery and patio services remain allowed.
Garnet Greipl, who runs Tasty Thai restaurants in Olds and Sundre, is among the owners who plan to stay open.
Greipl says he simply couldn’t afford to close his doors again — for his bottom line and for the livelihood of the approximately 20 full- and part-time workers he employs between both locations.
“I need to look after myself, my livelihood and my people. There are no more government programs for my waitresses or my (other) employees. So, I don’t know how they’re supposed to survive,” he said on Thursday during an interview.
“They say we can have patios open. Well my patio in Olds, I’m good for eight people with the social distancing. You tell me how I can hire somebody and keep a dishwasher working to wash their dishes and make money, right?
“I’d probably make more money in shutting down – or not shutting down, but just doing takeout and not having my employees. But that’s not what this is about. This is about keeping my employees working. They have no more money, they have no more fallbacks, you know?
“Like I said on one of my Facebook posts, you know what? If the government wants to donate their pay to a charity — for every day they shut me down they donate their day’s pay to a charity — I will gladly close my doors,” Greipl added.
“But when my people aren’t making money and then I have to lay them off and call them back and then half of them leave, I’ve got to retrain. I don’t have money for that....this is crazy.
“We take our protocols very seriously,” he said. “Everything is sanitized between every person who comes into our restaurants.”
Greipl said what further aggravates him is that in his opinion, big box stores seem to be able to flout the rules with no government pushback.
He said he was in one such store recently and “there were no sanitation wipes there, there was nothing” and added that store is filled with people on weekends.
Greipl said he expressed his concerns to a representative of Alberta Health Services, but only got a promise that his concerns would be passed onto superiors.
He said he asked the representative, “Why us? Why aren’t you mandating the bigger places? Is it because the little guy's easy to pick on? They will abide by your rules, where the big guy will say, ‘You talk to our lawyers.’”
“If they want to shut us down, I would like to see some numbers,” Greipel said. “Show me some facts that our restaurants are in fact getting people sick.
“And then what about our rights and our freedom, you know? What did our forefathers fight for? The right that we have a say in things.”
Chris Vardas, owner of Cedar’s Pub and Original T’s Family Restaurant in Sundre, stands by his previously stated intent to keep his establishments’ doors open for dine-in service.
“I am planning on it, yes I am,” Vardas said on Thursday during an interview.
Among the reasons he outlined justifying his decision is because members of the government had previously stated the plan was not to restrict restaurants to takeout service again. In the days leading up to the Easter long weekend, Premier Jason Kenney had urged Albertans to follow the guidelines, but at the time fell short of imposing stricter measures, which were reintroduced on Tuesday. Rules that impact restaurants and bars take effect tomorrow at noon.
“We can’t afford to shut it down,” said Vardas about dine-in service.
The cost of not only shutting down but then reopening over and over again is too great of a burden for owners to bear without any help, he said.
Making matters even worse, he said the provincial government is not providing an estimated timeline for the restrictions' duration or offering any financial assistance.
“They’re not turning around and saying, ‘We’re going to pay your bills. Or this year, we’re not going to charge your property taxes’ or anything like that,” he said, citing as a big problem the absence of adequate financial assistance from the provincial government to help small businesses get through these restrictions if owners are expected to adhere to the rules.
“Our power bills are still running, our gas bills are running, our town bills are still running — everything’s still running, but yet we’re not making the income to support it,” he said.
“If the government wants, they should maybe pay our bills at least, and our staff,” he said, wondering how he can be expected to lay off his 26 employees for the third time.
Arguably adding insult to injury, he also questioned the sense of allowing establishments with patios to provide outdoor service. Both Cedar’s Pub and Original T’s boast patio spaces, which Vardas said he is fortunate to have.
“But answer this. Customers are coming in the front door to get to the patio,” he said.
And people who are outside “sitting on the patio having a couple of bevies” are at some point invariably going to need to go inside to use the washrooms, he added.
“So, tell me what the difference is.”
He also wondered why the government’s approach appears to be more lenient on malls and big box stores, and suggested instead shutting them down while allowing small businesses to operate and then observing how the number of confirmed cases is impacted.
The owners of Backwoods Bakery & Cafe in Sundre confirmed their intent to stay open for dine-in traffic, as well as Piros and Boondox. In Olds, Our Flames Restaurant and Lounge intends to remain open for dine-in as does Tracks Pub, Quiznos and Bulldog’s Saloon.
— With files from Simon Ducatel