Facing month-long shutdown, restaurant and bar owners in Quebec red zones say they feel targeted

A financial compensation plan should have been in place before shut down was announced, say restaurateurs, who fear they will not survive the province's month-long closure.

Economy minister announces new financial assistance as industry fears 28-day shutdown will be extended

Stephen Leslie, the chef and owner of Tavern on the Square restaurant, says the government's decision to close down restaurants felt like a gut punch. (CBC)

Stephen Leslie, chef and owner of the Tavern on the Square restaurant, had already ordered half a wagyu cow and boxes of produce when he heard that his restaurant would have to close for 28 days.

Now that his restaurant — and every other eating establishment and bar in Quebec's red zones — is shut down, he is facing the prospect of having to lay off his staff to survive until November.

He'd much rather be preparing meals for his customers with that freshly ordered produce.

"It was like a gut punch," he said. "It's devastating and I didn't expect it."

Leslie had been hoping for an extended terrasse season and had invested with that in mind: $40,000 to retrain his staff and purchase personal protective equipment and outdoor heaters.

Now, he says he's not sure what he's going to do with that new equipment.

While he will be able to offer takeout food, Leslie says profits from that may not be enough to keep his restaurant afloat.

More notice from the government would have been helpful, he said.

"I feel we have been betrayed a little bit. We're doing everything we've been told. We've invested the money. We've done everything right. It's exceptionally hard working all day in PPE," he said.

On Thursday, Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon announced some help. He said the Quebec government will reimburse 80 per cent of a restaurant's fixed costs for the month of October.

The measure would include rent, mortgage interest, utilities, municipal and school taxes, insurance — up to a maximum of $15,000. It is expected to cost the province about $90 million, and could be renewed if the shutdown continues.

Government picked the wrong target

Martin Vézina, a spokesperson for the Quebec Restaurant Association (ARQ), says he doesn't know why restaurants are closing, when many of the outbreaks were caused by private gatherings, not eating out.

In Montreal, for example, only four of 34 outbreaks in workplaces have been in restaurants. There are currently 85 outbreaks in the city.

Quebec's Health Ministry has acknowledged restaurants are not a major vector of transmission, but the closure is part of an attempt to reduce social contacts more generally.

Vézina said some owners are also bracing themselves for the worst-case scenario, expecting the 28-day closure to be extended.

"They're killing us," said Jean-Jacques Beauchamp, president of the Corporation des propriétaires de bars, brasseries et tavernes du Québec

Beauchamp says his bar respected public health guidelines and he wonders why he had to close while gyms can stay open.

He said he and other bar and restaurant owners feel the government showed them a lack of respect by not consulting with them about the closure beforehand.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Spencer Van Dyk


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