More financial pain for restaurants/pubs as indoor dining ban extended

The provincial government has prolonged the ban until at least after the Victoria Day long weekend in late May, adding more woes to an industry already battered during the past year by the pandemic's effects.

With the ban on indoor dining now extended until after the May long weekend, Kamloops restaurants are facing at least another five weeks of relying on takeout orders and patios to keep money flowing in.

Mittz Kitchen, downtown in the 200-block of Victoria Street, is one of many restaurants in the city that has expanded its patio out across the sidewalk.

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Co-owner Steve Mitton said he was able to set up seven tables.

"That's about all we can fit. It has cut us instantly in half," he said.

Mittz has managed to retain most of its staff, although with reduced hours. Grants and subsidies have helped, but Mitton said they have also added a lot of overhead, noting some financial relief is not as promised.

"This latest one, where they said they're giving 10 grand, is a load of shit. It's only five grand," he said.

The Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant, which followed the health orders announced on March 30, provides funds based on the number of employees a business has. With five to 99 employees, $5,000 is available. With more than 100 employees, $10,000 is available.

"I'd love to see a small business that has over 100 employees," Mitton said, criticizing part of the latest support measures.

Mitton said dealing with the funding and accountants has been part of his brother's full-time job over the past year, noting the process has created plenty of additional work.

Data on exposures in restaurants has been made available by the province for only two health regions — Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health. But that data showed significant differences between the two regions.

In Vancouver Coastal, a large majority of workplace cases in February and March occurred in restaurants, bars and lounges. But in Fraser Health, the same category comes third after industrial/manufacturing sites and fitness/gym facilities.

Data for Interior Health was not made available, but last week, Interior Health's chief medical health officer, Dr. Albert de Villiers, said restaurants and other workplaces have not been a significant source of transmission in the region.

Jennifer Fey, owner of the North Kamloops Greek restaurant Minos, has managed to keep on minimal staff, but has felt the effects of the ban, especially without a patio.

"I think it sucks and it's full of shit because everything else is open. You can go to the gym, you can go to the mall, you can go swimming," she said.

Fey said Minos inquired with the city last year about a patio, but was denied due to space restrictions at their location in the 400-block of Tranquille Road.

Alchemy Brewing, meanwhile, will be closing its downtown doors at least until May due to recent staffing issues — on top of the ongoing struggle of staying afloat with only a patio available at the pub in the 600-block of Victoria Street.

Al Renner, who owns the brew pub with his wife, said his experience with patio space to date has been "horrible."

"We've actually only spent money," he said. "It's really hard. We're struggling."

Thankfully, the money spent on patio work has come through grants and targeted funding, which Renner said has been vital to the business' survival.

"That's the only reason the doors have been open," he said.

Renner said he plans on continuing work on the patio as staffing issues are sorted while the indoor dining ban continues, but he expects to have things ready in early May.

But when business at Alchemy does resume, Renner still anticipates it to be slow. He said he estimates only 60 to 65 per cent of diners are going out now, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

"Ultimately, everybody is just doing anything they can try to get by until this is over, and then they'll sort it all out in the next two years," he said.

At Fox'n Hounds Pub in Sahali Mall, which does not currently have patio space, owner Al Deacon said he's effectively facing a 100 per cent closure during the indoor dining ban.

"We don't have a patio, so we're trying to survive on curbside pickup only," he said.

So far, Deacon said the business he has done curbside isn't enough to cover the wages of his staff.

And the losses he's already faced don't help, either. When the indoor dining ban was first announced, Deacon had just completed a large grocery order the day before. As a result, he sent about $4,000 in perishable groceries to local shelter organizations, such as the Mustard Seed Kamloops.

"We're happy to support the community, but we're still licking our wounds from that. We can't afford to be giving our groceries away every four to six months," he said.

Deacon said he will soon be meeting with a health inspector to determine how and if the restaurant's former smoking room can be turned into a patio space and said he's also looking at adding tents to further expand that space.

© Kamloops This Week



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