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COVID-19 restrictions put Calgary restaurant owners in a pinch

COVID-19 restrictions have forced Calgary restaurant and bar owners to close for in-person dining, after many invested thousands of dollars into expanded sidewalk patios.

On May 4, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced further restrictions in response to the increased cases of COVID-19 in the province – including prohibiting all in-person dining for three weeks.

The new restrictions started on Sunday (May 9), limiting restaurants and bars to takeout, curbside pickup and delivery.

Customers at Leslie Echino’s restaurant, Annabelle’s Kitchen, during the last weekend of in-person dining before the new restrictions took effect. KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Despite the monetary loss these restrictions will have, many restaurant owners understand, said Leslie Echino, Calgary business owner, co-founder of Alberta Hospitality Association (AHA) and a director of Restaurants Canada.

“[When] these restrictions are in place, 100 per cent, we need to follow them. We need to protect our employees and the public,” Echino said.

Gustavo Bolivar, owner of Gringo Street on 17th Ave agreed.

“We don’t like to complain – it is what it is,” Bolivar said.

Cost of closures

Echino empathized with Calgary business owners. Particularly restaurants, which are quite expensive to operate.

“It costs [the average restaurants] five to 10,000 dollars” every time they’re forced to close and reopen – taking perishable inventory into account,” Echino said.

“Doordash, Skip The Dishes and curbside is like maybe 10 or 15 per cent of what our normal revenue is right now, so it’s a huge amount of wasted product.”

The colourful wooden fence created by Gustavo Bolivar and his staff to save money on their extended patio. Photo: KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The decline in revenue is not only a concern due to the associated inventory waste, but the amount of money restaurants have put into making their businesses up to AHS guidelines.

“Look at all the plexiglass in here. That’s $8,000 in plexiglass. Purchasing patio furniture … the patio enclosures, you know, what are those costing some restaurants? I know there are some restaurants that are spending eight to 20 grand on it,” Echino said.

“I know restaurants that have spent 10 [to] 20,000 dollars just on those woods sidings. People think it’s cheap. Wood is four times the price it was a year ago. These are not cheap and fast solutions.”

Bolivar managed to save some money on his extended patio enclosures by making a wooden fence barrier with his staff.

“I prefer to pay them [rather] than go and pay an outside company three times more than what it [costs] to build something,” said Bolivar.

Addressing frustrations

Despite restaurants and bars being held to “the strictest” guidelines, Echino said, it felt like the industry was being targeted.

Restaurants and bars, such as Annabelle’s Kitchen, have sanitizers and cleaning supplies readily available. Photo: KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi acknowledged the issue, suggesting that the fault does not lay with the establishments.

“I think the real challenge was that even though operators were really trying hard to make this work, the issue being the rule that you have to be there only with your family was probably the most widely ignored rule,” Mayor Nenshi said.

“It was very, very difficult for restaurants to enforce that [rule] – in some ways, unfair to ask restaurants to enforce that.”

Mayor Nenshi has hopes that these new restrictions will mimic the outcome of November 2020.

“Our evidence from November, when the government put in those restrictions, is that we peaked and fell quite sharply in the second wave in our cases quite quickly,” he said.

“These regulations are very similar, if not exactly the same as the ones in November. I would anticipate they would have the same results with the additional advantage that more and more people are getting vaccinated. So then, the base of people who could get infected is also getting smaller.”