Nova Scotia

As some N.S. restaurants prepare to reopen patios, others feel left behind

Some restaurants across Nova Scotia are celebrating the opportunity to reopen their patios this week, but those without outdoor spaces are feeling left behind.

Starting Wednesday, restaurants can open for outdoor dining

Patios across Nova Scotia can open on Wednesday, but many restaurants with no outdoor space will still be limited to takeout. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Some restaurants across Nova Scotia are celebrating the opportunity to reopen their patios this week, but those without outdoor spaces are feeling left behind.

Starting Wednesday at 8 a.m. AT, restaurants and bars can open their outdoor patios, provided there is two metres of physical distance between groups and a maximum of 10 people per table.

"[We're] extremely excited. It's great news," said Geir Simensen, co-owner of several Halifax restaurants, including the Stubborn Goat Gastropub and Beer Garden.

"That's what we were hoping for. We felt pretty confident that it wouldn't be a full restaurant reopening but with the patios, that worked out quite well for us. We do have a fair amount of patio space."

Nova Scotia locked down at the end of April as COVID-19 cases reached record highs. This meant all restaurants had to close and were only able to offer takeout.

Geir Simensen, left, and Kyle Drake, right, are two of the owners of Stubborn Goat Gastropub and Beer Garden. Simensen said he's excited for patios to be able to open this week. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"Takeout isn't what we do. Our staff thrive on interacting with our guests and being part of the experiences," Simensen said Saturday.

"Doing takeout isn't exactly what we've all signed up to do, so we're thankful that we were able to do that … but we're looking forward to getting back to normal."

However, many restaurants won't be able to return to normal just yet. 

Fresh From The Oven, a restaurant in Greenwood, N.S.doesn't have any outdoor seating.

"I'm happy that they can accommodate [patio service], but not all of us can," said Natasha Prall, co-owner of the restaurant.

"We're just in scary times right now … other places are going to be allowed to operate and have people [sit down outside], while we're stuck just doing takeout only." 

Prall said the restaurant has already taken out several loans and spent thousands of dollars on COVID-19 infrastructure and there are no funds left to create an outdoor dining space.

Nova Scotia's reopening plan does say that indoor dining is expected to restart by at least mid-June, if COVID-19 cases and hospitalization numbers continue to decrease.

"We want to make sure that we're taking this cautious approach," Premier Iain Rankin said at the COVID-19 briefing Friday.

"That's how we've done it all along as we start to open up but clearly, outside transmission is much lower risk and that aligns with allowing the 10 people to start to gather with no social distancing outside and not inside."

Luc Erjavec, vice-president of the Atlantic region for Restaurants Canada, said he understands the frustration of restaurants without patios, but this is just the first step to a full reopening.

"We're continually talking to public health and government and they want to get us open. They're just being cautious," Erjavec said.

"And while it can be frustrating, it shows what we've done in Nova Scotia has worked. We've beat back the third wave almost completely and I'm really optimistic that we'll continue on this trend and we'll be open for indoor dining shortly."

Luc Erjavec, vice-president Atlantic for Restaurants Canada, said the reopening of patios is just the first step of the province's phased-in plan. (CBC)

But Prall is worried that it might be too late. 

The family-run restaurant has been struggling during the third wave and is barely keeping the doors open at all — a sentiment she says is felt by many businesses in the Annapolis Valley.

"We really are already at the point where we're close to closing our doors," she said.

Prall said she's hoping the province will reconsider the reopening plan to allow areas where COVID-19 cases have been low to reopen faster. 

There are 14 active cases in the western zone as of Sunday, compared to 401 in the central zone.

During previous spikes, the province has shut down harder hit areas, without affecting other regions.