Hamilton

Hamilton restaurant that refused to enforce vaccine passport files for bankruptcy

Nique, a downtown Hamilton restaurant that months ago publicly announced it would not enforce proof-of-vaccination rules has filed for bankruptcy.

Nique had $11K in assets and over $395K in debt, documents show

Nique, a downtown Hamilton restaurant that said it wouldn't enforce COVID-19 vaccination passports, has filed for bankruptcy. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Nique, a downtown Hamilton restaurant that months ago publicly announced it would not enforce proof-of-vaccination rules has filed for bankruptcy.

Documents obtained by CBC Hamilton show a debtor declared Nique had $11,000 in assets and $395,257 in liabilities or debt.

The restaurant's first meeting with creditors is set for Jan. 21, according to the documents.

When asked about the bankruptcy, Nique owner Harrison Hennick told CBC Hamilton: "This is not a news story ... I don't regret a single thing."

He told the Hamilton Spectator the business was "lucrative" last year, but the debt was "completely insurmountable."

Restaurant's stance drew mixed feelings

In late September, Ontario started requiring people to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 and matching identification to enter businesses such as bars, casinos, gyms, restaurants, sports arenas and theatres.

Most businesses followed those rules but some, like Nique, refused to do so. The city began to issue fines to businesses that were not complying in early October. 

Nique chef-owner Harrison Hennick was asked about the bankruptcy and told CBC Hamilton, 'I don't regret a single thing.' (Adam Carter/CBC)

"I believe our human rights laws supersede anything our government is trying to do," Hennick told CBC Hamilton in September.

The decision led to some support from people who said they would continue to eat there. Others criticized Hennick's approach, which led to what he called an "outburst" on social media.

"I'm embarrassed about the things that I said to individuals, but I'm not embarrassed about my position on human rights," Hennick wrote. 

In late September, the Ministry of Labour launched an investigation into the restaurant and ended up issuing an order, but it was unrelated to COVID-19 protocols.

A short time later, Nique closed temporarily after some workers quit because their family members reportedly "didn't feel safe" around them while they worked at the downtown restaurant. 

Hennick also said it closed on advice from legal counsel, the increased attention the restaurant received and renovations to the restaurant's bar.

Almost a week later, news broke the restaurant was put up for sale for $288,000. 

Christian Petronio, sales representative with CHI Real Estate Group, confirmed the property is still available. He told CBC Hamilton on Friday that Hennick told him no bank or government agency has any claim against the business or belongings on the property. 

He added Hennick has formed a new company.

Nique previously closed temporarily after conversations with staff and legal counsel, according to the restaurant's owner. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

In recent months, city bylaw officers charged Nique several times for not following COVID-19 protocols, including masking violations, proof of vaccination violations, and at least one violation regarding contact tracing and screening customers.

The charges can range up to $1,000 each.

Businesses 'hanging by a thread'

Hennick, meanwhile, started a fundraiser with a $100,000 goal saying he and staff had been "threatened with fines and closure, harassed and assaulted."

As of Friday, it had raised $3,270.

Nique was one of a handful of businesses in the city that refused to comply with pandemic orders. The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce said previously that while most businesses and patrons were following the rules, a few were not. 

With further restrictions announced in early January, the chamber also said the toll of the pandemic on all businesses has been great, with many now "hanging by a thread."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova

Reporter/Editor

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

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