Manitoba

Prospect of interacting with customers again pleases owners of Winnipeg restaurants, spa

Some restaurant and spa owners are pleased to hear that public health restrictions on their industries may soon be loosened — but all say more information is needed before it becomes a reality.

Buoyed by good news, they also say more details needed before moving forward

Lucy Bau, owner of a gelato parlour in Winnipeg, is excited by the possibility of letting more people in to her shop soon. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The dining room of the French Way Café and Bakery in Corydon typically has 15 tables that allow up to 48 people to sit and savour the baked goods they just purchased.

But right now, aside from the display cases and check-out counter, the room is empty.

"In a way, it has worked out well, because it has given me the space to keep the bakery open, and people are still coming by for takeout and delivery for food, so there's a place for them to stand and wait and not be clustered together," said owner Larissa Webster.

"But it is still hard because we miss interacting with our customers," she said.

"We have a lot of regulars that come every day, every week; we get to know them and know their lives, and we haven't seen them."

French Way Cafe owner Larissa Webster says the dining area would normally contain 15 tables and 48 chairs. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Webster credits her staff for being able to keep the business running during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they helped decide which items would be good for takeout, while continuing to meet demand with fewer people.

Thanks to decreasing COVID-19 cases, Manitoba public health officials announced Wednesday that public gathering sizes could increase starting May 22. Assuming physical distancing is possible, up to 25 people can gather indoors, while 50 can come together outdoors.

The Manitoba government announced further progressions on Thursday that will be part of Phase 2 of the province's economic reopening, as well as other measures.

Among the considerations is allowing restaurants to reopen indoor spaces, and continuing to offer patio services, at 50 per cent capacity.

Restaurant owners who spoke with CBC News, including Webster, are excited by the announcement, but also need more clear details from the province.

"With this next phase, I'm very excited for it, I'm very happy that we can start getting people in the seats, in the tables, in a safe way," said Webster.

"But work has to happen first in educating staff in what can we do," and how it affects operations, including whether staff is included in the 25-person indoor capacity, and if the café should continue reusing dishes, she said.

Webster's enthusiasm toward the possibility of further reopening is tamed by the details she still needs from the province. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Meanwhile, roughly three blocks away, Lucy Bau has her own concerns.

Bau owns G.G. Gelati, a gelato parlour on Corydon Avenue that opened on May 15 after being closed for the better part of two months.

Yet despite losing roughly 60 per cent of sales, Bau is more concerned with the pace of the reopening, she says.

"I don't want [the province] to rush. I know everybody wants kind of go back to the normal life," she said.

Bau also wonders how she'll enforce the capacity rules, even though she says customers are typically respectful of public health orders.

All that said, Bau believes the further reopening comes at a good time.

"Even this area, this community, the foot traffic is the key thing," she said. "If people couldn't stay in the bar or in the restaurant, then that'll be damage to us as well."

Lucy Bau is shown preparing a display case in her gelato parlour, G.G. Gelati. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Bau has had to politely shoo away customers who wanted to eat indoors, while others had to check that she was open because they saw chairs stacked on tables, she said.

Although there is a patio at G.G. Gelati, it's small, and Bau said she wasn't comfortable seating people there despite being allowed to during Phase 1.

"I do feel pretty excited about [Phase 2], and it will really bring the business back," she said.

'Make things right'

Swimming pools, fitness and community centres and spas are also being looked at for possible reopening during Phase 2, the province said.

"We actually could have done massages at the beginning of May, but we chose not to because we wanted to really take our time to reconsider operations, to deconstruct everything and look at everything again, and make things right," said Elena Zinchenko, spa director of Ten Spa in the Hotel Fort Garry on Broadway.

"If it's safe for me, if it's safe for my family, if it's safe for the people that I love, it will be safe for our customers — and same for our staff."

Ten Spa shut down on March 17. It could have reopened earlier this month, but Elena Zinchenko held off. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Zinchenko said many of the things needed to reopen, such as disinfecting protocols, are already in place. It's just a matter of making the procedures stricter.

In terms of customer experience, Zinchenko expects it to be better, because there will be fewer people in the spa, which should lead to better relaxation.

Like the restaurant owners, however, there remain many questions.

"There's not a lot of information, and not a lot of people we can go to to ask questions," said Zinchenko, adding that the spa has contacted local MLAs, but has had to resort to the province's COVID-19 webpage.

Zinchenko says not knowing is difficult as a business owner, but she realizes many people are facing similar issues and are learning as the pandemic progresses.

Manitoba is lifting some restrictions on gyms, fitness centres, spas and pools, much to the delight of their operators and clients who promise to follow the protocols. 2:54

About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter based in Winnipeg. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school before moving to Winnipeg. Prior to joining CBC Manitoba, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email at nick.frew@cbc.ca

With files from Nelly Gonzalez

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