Dundee Arms shutting its doors for fall, winter for first time in 48 years

Dundee Arms Inn and Restaurant, an institution in downtown Charlottetown, is closing its doors this winter for the first time in 48 years.

COVID-19 restrictions, end of patio season mean it isn't feasible to stay open, say owners

Pat Sands, the long-time manager of Dundee Arms Inn and Restaurant in Charlottetown, says her customers were saddened to hear her establishment would be closing for the winter months. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Dundee Arms Inn and Restaurant, an institution in downtown Charlottetown, is closing its doors this fall and winter for the first time in 48 years.

The owners say COVID-19 is to blame.

John Cudmore, the president of Dyne Holdings, which operates Dundee Arms, said a review of the numbers made it clear it wasn't feasible to keep the business open.

It will close in mid-October and reopen in May. 

"It's been a challenging summer for everyone in Prince Edward Island and everyone in Charlottetown with COVID," said Cudmore. 

"With the help of our hardworking team at the Dundee and the government programs we were able to make a go of it again with the capacity of our large outdoor deck."

'Difficult for us to basically survive'

But Cudmore said with outdoor dining coming to an end, there was no choice but to close. The province limits the number of people allowed to eat inside restaurants as part of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Ian Clays, left, assistant manager of Dundee Arms Inn, has been working at the inn for 28 years while Tanya McCarron, front desk supervisor, has been with the inn for 17 years. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

"We're just afraid that the burn on our revenue and our income will be such that it will make it difficult for us to basically survive."   

Normally 30-35 people work at the Dundee Arms. There were 14 this year.

All but one, the general manager, will be laid off for the winter months. 

Jeff Sinnott, co-owner Red Island Hospitality, which owns a number restaurants and bars in Charlottetown, said it's been a challenging summer. But he said the big patios at most of their restaurants helped.

'Losing the decks is a big deal'

Sinnott said his business is down 30 to 40 per cent on average.

Jeff Sinnott, co-owner Red Island Hospitality, which owns a number restaurants and bars in Charlottetown, says it’s been a challenging summer. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

"Losing the decks is a big deal," said Sinnott. "There's really not enough room inside as it is now with the capacity set to 50 people."

To offset the seating limits, his company is actually going to keep one of its seasonal restaurants, John Brown's Grille, open this winter. 

The restaurant usually closes at Thanksgiving. 

"I needed another option," he said. "It's the opposite of some places. We're going to stay open because of COVID." 

'Too much going against us'

Kevin Murphy, CEO of Murphy Hospitality Group, which operates 16 restaurants, said he'd like to see P.E.I. change its rule about a maximum of 50 people in a dining room.

He said he would like the Island to adopt restrictions similar to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which focus on the distance between tables, without setting a maximum occupancy for a room.

Jamie Juniper, left, is the manager at Hunter's Ale House. Karen Brown and Kendra Kozek are servers. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Sinnott agrees. He said the province needs to look at ways to increase the numbers allowed in dining rooms. 

Their flagship restaurant, Hunter's Ale House, is allowed to have 50 people on the main level and 50 people upstairs. But that's only a third of the 300 people their licence allows. 

"We would definitely like to see the numbers increase." 

Cudmore said the outdoor decks helped a lot of businesses to survive.

But he's fearful what the future holds now that the weather is turning colder and the outdoor deck season is coming to an end. 

"There's too much going against us," said Cudmore. "I fear that we won't be the only ones in this decision."

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