Excitement, cautious optimism as Halifax-area restaurants reopen
Bars, restaurants were able to reopen Monday, though some restrictions are still in place
Bars and restaurants in the Halifax area were able to reopen for in-person dining on Monday, after weeks of being closed under public health restrictions due to a spike of COVID-19 cases in November.
The reopening of these establishments was originally planned for Jan. 11, but after a request from the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, the province agreed to push the reopening date up by a week as case numbers remained low. That announcement was made on New Year's Eve.
In a release Monday, Premier Stephen McNeil said he was "pleased that the recent low number of cases in the greater Halifax area means that restaurants can reopen today."
"I want to thank the hardworking entrepreneurs in this sector for their patience as we do our best to slow the spread of the virus," he said in a statement. "I remind all Nova Scotians that following all the public health protocols is the best way to protect each other and also help our economy."
The reopening was welcome news for Kelly Cormier, co-owner of the Ardmore Tea Room on Quinpool Road, but the short notice meant the breakfast spot had to scramble to make sure everything was ready for Monday.
Food suppliers don't tend to deliver on weekends and Cormier wasn't sure if she'd be able to get her staff together, but said her employees were "happy and ready and willing to come back" and they worked with a limited menu on Monday.
"Although it was a struggle, we really wanted to be open today, and we managed to make that happen so we're pleased," she told CBC's Maritime Noon. "But it's been a long go. I mean, it's hard for all restaurants and bars."
Business was steady Monday since the Ardmore opened at 8 a.m., said Cormier, adding there was even someone waiting outside before the eatery officially opened.
"We're just very fortunate where we have some loyal regular customers and they all came back, wanting their Ardmore," she said.
Ryan Whalen, who ate at the Ardmore on Monday with friends, said he felt "fortunate" to be inside a restaurant again.
"We're in the middle of the pandemic, tough times right now, but it's good to get out and support some local businesses, for sure," he said.
Kelly Cormier's husband and Ardmore co-owner, Mike Cormier, said it "feels great to be back in business" after the shutdown, which lasted 39 days.
He said the restaurant is lucky to not have as many overhead costs as some of the larger restaurants in the area, and they were able to recoup some of their business through take-out.
But he said it's been hard for his staff because there aren't as many shifts to go around due to capacity and business hour restrictions.
"That's been the worst part for me … they're working a shift here and there, and that's really it," he said. "It's tough, because it's all long-term, they've been here forever, so we're all pretty tight."
There have been similar issues for Hakan Uluer, owner of The Bertossi Group of Restaurants, which includes The Bicycle Thief, La Frasca, Ristorante a Mano and il Mercato Trattoria.
He said while they tried to keep as much staff as possible, they were only able to keep about 10 per cent of their employees.
Uluer said he was excited to be back in business and was optimistic about 2021. "Better days ahead," he said.
Restaurants made 'huge sacrifice'
Over at the Garden Food Bar & Lounge on Clyde Street, owner Kourosh Rad said the restaurant is always closed Mondays, so it will reopen Tuesday instead.
But that didn't mean they weren't working on Monday.
"The doors are closed, but behind the scenes we are here cleaning, getting ready, we're doing the prep work," Rad told Maritime Noon.
"It's been an interesting few days. Luckily, we have really good staff that are hardworking, they are willing to come in and help us put the menus together and get the space ready."
Rad said the business won't be affected much by the restrictions still in place for bars and restaurants — such as a requirement to stop serving at 10 p.m. — but he worried for other businesses that would be.
He said restaurants have made a "huge sacrifice" by closing over the holidays, which is typically a busy time in the hospitality industry.
"We've made the sacrifices that we need to, we've done our part," said Rad. "I would like to ask the public to do their part, and that is to support local. Every decision at this point matters, every decision of how we spend our money matters."
"We don't want to come out of this pandemic with a number of shuttered businesses and closed down restaurants. If we lose that, we lose a very integral part of our city."
According to the province, the second part of the small business impact grant, which aims to help services affected by the most recent shutdown, has processed 476 applications representing more than $1.9 million so far.
Pandemic 'fundamentally changed' industry
Brian Titus, owner of Garrison Brewing, told CBC Monday he was "thrilled" to get back in business, even with the limitations on seating and hours.
"It's great to be up and going again, we put a lot of effort and a lot of money into making sure we have a safe environment and an enjoyable environment," he said.
He said he is conscious of the potential of cases beginning to rise again, so he said Garrison put in extra precautions so staff and customers feel safe.
Titus said the pandemic has "fundamentally changed what we're about as an industry," but he was optimistic about the future.
"Pubs, taprooms, bars, they're social places, it's about getting people together. We're good with being elbowed a little bit if it's an enjoyable atmosphere, we're OK with being packed in fairly tight, that's all part of the excitement about going out and socializing," he said.
"Tough to do that in a pandemic, but those days will return…. It's what Halifax is known for and we're excited to get back to that."
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- An earlier version of this story said restaurants and bars were only allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity. In fact, they are allowed to operate at 100 per cent capacity, subject to appropriate distancing between tables.Jan 06, 2021 9:27 AM AT
With files from Maritime Noon and Preston Mulligan