Montreal

Already strapped for cash, Montreal restaurateurs worry they won't be ready to reopen on June 22

For most of the province, dine-in restaurants will be allowed to reopen starting June 15. Montrealers and those living in Joliette and L'Épiphanie will have to wait until June 22.

'It's like opening a new restaurant,' says chef who worries staff won't be able to stay 2 metres apart

Hanhak Kim opened Bar Otto in Saint-Henri just five weeks before Quebec ordered all restaurants closed. Now he's not sure if he will be ready in time for June 22.  (CBC)

Montreal chef Normand Laprise doesn't know how he'll get his restaurants ready in time for reopening day now that he has a laundry list of public health restrictions to follow.

"We can't do that in two weeks," he said on Monday. "It's like opening a new restaurant."

Customers will have to stay two metres apart from anybody they don't live with and staff will be expected to do the same, wearing face coverings in the kitchen while preparing food and disinfecting surfaces regularly.

"We asked for a meter like in France and it was not accepted," said Laprise, who runs downtown restaurants like Toqué! and Brasserie T!

For most of the province, dine-in restaurants will be allowed to reopen starting June 15. Montrealers and those living in Joliette and L'Épiphanie will have to wait until June 22.

Only businesses permitted to serve food can reopen this month. Bars will not be allowed to open and there is no date yet for when they will be allowed to. 

Losing half of seating

Norbert Gagnon, the president and CEO of Normandin restaurants, a pizza chain found across the province, said his restaurants will be ready, but they won't be welcoming as many customers as before.

Under the distancing rules, he'll lose 50 to 60 per cent of seating. Despite the cut, he said the restaurants will stay afloat.

"We will be able to operate the entire chain at volumes like that," he said.

Restaurants across Quebec were among the first businesses closed when the pandemic hit the province, and now three months later, many may stay closed forever.

Unable to serve dine-in customers for about three months, the restaurant industry has been hard hit by the pandemic in Quebec. (Maggie Macpherson/Radio-Canada)

Restaurants Canada estimated that 10 per cent of restaurants in the province won't survive despite government support.  And those who do manage to open, may not survive long under the circumstances, said Martin Vézina, spokesperson for Quebec's restaurant association.

He said customers will be eager to go out to eat at first, but the novelty may wear off quick after their 'hospital-like' experience of dining under strict public health restrictions.

Not only that, said Vézina, all the personal protective equipment for staff is going to be expensive for restaurant owners who are already strapped for cash. He said more government assistance may be needed.

Struggling to reopen in Montreal

Hanhak Kim opened Bar Otto in Saint-Henri just five weeks before Quebec ordered all restaurants closed. Now he's not sure if he will be ready in time for June 22. 

He plans to hire a cleaning specialist to keep the place spotless, but he's already been struggling to cover costs with a makeshift takeout menu that wasn't attracting a strong customer base.

Patrick Namroud, who owns a Montreal pizzeria, has been able to keep his delivery service running during the pandemic, but he took a hit by not being allowed to serve dine-in customers. (CBC)

"It was horrible, and at the same time, I have to still pay for rent and everything. And I have a lot of debt to open this restaurant," he said.

It's not just new restaurants that took a hit. In the borough of Saint-Laurent, Pendeli's Pizza has been around for six decades. The restaurant was already set up for delivery, but the lack of dine-in customers still hurt.

"To reopen, it's going to be hard for us because we have to adapt," said the pizzeria's owner, Patrick Namroud. "We're a small restaurant, so to respect the two metres is going to be hard."

With files from Radio-Canada, Matt D'Amours and Sudha Krishnan

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