SUNDRE — At least two local restaurants intend to stay open by following provincial government protocols announced last week requiring establishments to ask patrons for either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Chris Vardas, owner of Cedar’s Pub and Original T’s Family Restaurant in Sundre, wasn’t impressed by the provincial government’s approach to pass the proverbial buck back at businesses.
“It’s ridiculous is what it is, because they’re making us once again do all the dirty work for them,” said Vardas on Friday, Sept. 17.
“They should be sending somebody to the door and let them deal with it,” he said.
“Because of the fact is, who am I to ask people their private information if they’ve been vaccinated or not? Now when my girls ask that, people are going to be yelling at them.”
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Vardas said he had little choice but to seek an exemption status from the provincial government, which will enable him to continue offering dine-in service to customers who provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
“We’re going to try to stay open, because takeout’s great but at the end of the day, we’re going to have to apply for (the exemption) just so I can keep the doors open,” he said.
With takeout-only service, Vardas said he only needs one employee to answer the phone and a couple of cooks in the kitchen.
“So, then I’m laying everybody off in the front of the house again. That is not fair for them either, and I can’t live with that. And I won’t do it again,” he said, emphasizing the provincial government forced his hand.
“The government’s also put us in a position, where my girls now got to be the ones turning around asking these people (for proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test), and they’re going to be in harm’s way when people start yelling at them,” he said, adding that additional stress will further impact their mental health.
“At the end of the day, individuals who think that way got to understand we’ve got a responsibility to our employees, to our own families, and we got to do what we got to do to keep our businesses open,” he said.
“It’s not us doing it, it’s the government mandating us to do it. That’s an issue they should take up with (the government) and not the business owners.”
Adding insult to injury, the Alberta government hasn’t even mentioned supports for businesses that might opt to default to takeout.
“Who’s gonna pick up our bills? And then we have to deal with the social media aspect of it!” he said, referring to numerous residents who are ready to boycott any restaurants that ask for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
“How is it our fault when we’re getting mandated? We understand the frustration that everyone’s going through — we’re all going through it. But please, people got to be courteous to all of our staff. ” he said.
“You know, show a little consideration. It’s not them, be kind to them. We do the best we can do to keep our businesses open for everybody.”
Ravi Vithanage, owner of Boondox Family Restaurant, also intends to seek an exemption status.
“I cannot afford to close. So, I will be open and I will follow the protocols,” Vithanage said.
“I have no support from the government, no support from the landlord. I have to pay all my bills. I don’t have money to pay bills if I sit at home and just close the restaurant. I’m already struggling to pay the bills right now,” he said.
Asked his thoughts on the Alberta government’s decision to put the onus on businesses, he said, “They want to make us the bad guys. If we ask people for their passport — or whatever that thing’s called — then they’re going to get mad at us and they’re not going to come to the restaurant.”
That reality has him pondering the possibility of putting up a poster informing patrons his establishment had no choice.
“It’s not us asking for this,” he said. “It’s the government. But we are following the protocols because we cannot afford to close.”
He said some customers who dined in following the government’s announcement told him they would not return to his establishment until the restrictions are lifted.
“A lot of people I spoke to said, ‘I’m not wearing a mask, I’m not getting the shot, I’m not letting the government do whatever they want to do to my body’,” he said.
“I don’t know who is right, who is wrong. But in the end, we will be the people to suffer.”
Additionally, Vithanage wants to remind patrons that his establishment had never asked such questions from customers prior to all of this.
“But now we have been forced to ask for proof of vaccination or negative COVID test,” he said.
“I’m just requesting customers to not take it personal. This is not something we wanted to do. We are doing it because we cannot afford to shut the doors.”