Unique offerings at Calgary’s Ember Lounge make post-coronavirus opening uncertain

Lounge offering shisha and belly dancing might have to re-evaluate how it fits into Calgary's new normal

Ember Lounge closed due to COVID-19 restrictions with hopes of reopening soon
Ember Lounge closed due to COVID-19 restrictions with hopes of reopening soon

Ben Kanbour, owner of Calgary’s Ember Lounge, knows his unique offerings pose problems that most other city businesses don’t face.

After last week’s Alberta relaunch strategy was unveiled, Kanbour has been trying to figure out if his business can even operate.

In September of 2019, Kanbour opened the doors to Ember’s northwest Calgary location in hopes of bringing Lebanese and Middle-Eastern inspired dining/culture to that part of the city.

They shutdown like so many other businesses when provincial health regulations were put in place for coronavirus.

“We ended up giving most of our food stock to something like 50 families in need around Calgary,” said Kanbour.

“We hope to reopen when the shutdown is lifted. We know we will, but we don’t know if it will be right away”.

What’s different for them is Ember is the only shisha lounge in the northwest.

Details on opening still hazy

Ember struggles with the government’s health restrictions due to the nature of their business.

People are exhaling into an enclosed space. That creates some unique problems and dangers for customers in a post-pandemic.

“I don’t think that there is more risk because people are smoking hooka but smoking so close to each other is a problem,” said Kanbour.

“So, we hope to spread them out and make sure customers are like a table apart, when we actually open back up.”

Shisha lounges were already in tough as the city was eying up restrictions to the practice, which involves herbal mixtures or tobacco smoked in a water pipe. They considered applying the city’s smoking bylaw to these locations.

Coun. George Chahal said at the time he would be worried that removing this would affect the socialization of many cultural communities.

Employee futures also uncertain

Belly Dancer Kateryna Mynak hopes to continue her passion after COVID-19 shutdown. KATERYNA MYNAK/ FACEBOOK

Belly dancer Kateryna Mynak, has been employed at Ember Lounge since its opening. She worries for her future.

“Belly dancing is my passion and my job. I want to be able to continue working after this, but I’m not sure what will happen,” said Mynak

Mynak said the experience she gives in her performances will be hindered by the physical distancing restrictions. Right now, people are required to stay two metres apart.

“Only 15 people can be in a room, which changes things for me,” said Mynak.

“I can’t get close to people so I’ll have to perform at a distance. I can wear a mask but it would take a lot away from the experience.”

Kanbour hopes to implement measures to keep customers safe at Ember by innovating their lounge experience and following Government health guidelines.

The New Normal

Kanbour is working hard to try and get Ember prepared to get back on its feet and keep people safe. He’s concerned there might not be a place for his business in the new normal.

They’re putting in new safety precautions at the location. They were using rubber hoses instead of metal ones and disposable tips. Gloves and masks will be mandatory for staff should they reopen.

“We hope to bring back everyone, but it looks like we could only afford to bring back the kitchen staff and a few servers,” he said.

“Food deliveries and reopening are the priority. We hope to bring back at least 50 per cent of the staff but we are completely shut down for now.”

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