Cautious optimism from restaurant, gym owners in Waterloo region as capacity restrictions lift

Restaurant and gym owners in Waterloo region are feeling cautiously optimistic this week as they can once again reopen their businesses to full capacity.

Province plans to lift all remaining public health measures by March 2022

Patrons dine in Hendriks Restaurant and Bar, on Toronto’s Yonge Street, on Oct. 22, 2021. Starting Monday, the province is lifting capacity restrictions in most places that require proof of vaccination, such as pubs, restaurants and gyms. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Restaurant and gym owners in Waterloo region are feeling cautiously optimistic this week as they can once again reopen their businesses to full capacity. 

As of today, the province has lifted capacity restrictions in most settings that require proof of vaccination, such as restaurants, indoor sports facilities and gyms, casinos, bingo halls and indoor meeting and event spaces. 

"We're beyond happy," said Kristian Manning, owner of Gym 41 in Kitchener, Ont. 

"Hopefully we can lick our our wounds, pay back some of these government loans and really move forward with our business." 

The province hopes to gradually lift all public health restrictions by March 2022, with the next milestone set for Nov. 15. At that time, capacity limits will lift in night clubs, strip clubs and other remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination is required. 

Kristian Manning is the owner of Gym 41 in Kitchener, Ont. (Submitted by Kristian Manning)

The plan may change depending on public health indicators, such as the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 and whether any new variants arise. 

'Meet somewhere in the middle'

Manning's business partner, Matt Rolleman, says he's feeling "cautiously optimistic" about the latest stage of reopening. 

In the last 18 months, Rolleman noted a lifting of restrictions has often been followed by a spike in case numbers and a return to stricter public health measures. 

Matt Rolleman says he's excited about the lifting of restrictions, but wary about the potential of future shutdowns. (Submitted by Matt Rolleman)

"We're excited, but we're going to be sort of cautious in our excitement, I would say," said Rolleman, who is the owner-operator of 13 Food and Beverage in downtown Galt, and owns a partial stake in Gym 41. 

He also isn't sure how keen diners will be to brush shoulders with other people again. He may increase capacity in one part of the restaurant at first, while leaving more space between tables in another section. 

"I think we are going to try to meet somewhere in the middle," he said. 

One step at a time

Elvis Ellison, owner of Ellison's Bistro, says he isn't sure how long it might take for people to feel comfortable dining inside at full capacity. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Elvis Ellison, chef-owner at Ellison's Restaurant, said increasing capacity will be "great news" for restaurants in downtown Kitchener. Still, he echoed Rolleman's point that it could take time for people to feel comfortable eating inside at a busy restaurant. 

"I'm going to just take steps at the time and just see how people react to it," said Ellison, who's also wary of getting carried away and ordering too much food, then having to throw it away. 

"[I'm] just going to just wait and just weave it in."

The lifting of capacity limits means Fitzroy Vanderpool can hold larger classes at his gym, The Whip Boxing Academy. 

"Having bigger numbers will definitely be a bonus for us," said Vanderpool. 

Vanderpool said the latest stage of reopening is "fantastic news."

"I have to just be optimistic and remain optimistic because things can only hopefully get better from here." 

Fitzroy Vanderpool looks forward to teaching larger groups in his boxing classes. (Submitted by Fitzroy Vanderpool)

with files from CBC Toronto