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Some restaurants close, others offer only takeout after emergency declaration

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St. Patrick’s Day is always the busiest night of the year at Shorty’s Grill in Owen Sound.

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For Tuesday’s event, owner Stan Dimakos had booked the party band Strange Potatoes to perform for another year. Staff was urging people last week to make reservations as spots were filling up fast.

But the evolving COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

On Monday, Dimakos cancelled the St. Paddy’s celebration. The next day – as the province declared a state of emergency because of the virus – he announced the popular eatery will be closed until further notice.

So, instead of serving green beer and wings, Dimakos was delivering news of temporary layoffs.

“For the protection of our staff, we’re just telling everyone to stay home. And, unfortunately, we’ve had to lay everybody off for now,” he said.

Dimakos said he will decide by Friday whether or not the restaurant will provide takeout options on weekends until the dining room can reopen.

“We’re just taking it day by day, hour by hour to see where we’re going to go with this. Honestly, we don’t know what to do right now,” he said.

In declaring the state of emergency, Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered the immediate closure of all restaurants and bars. Takeout and delivery options are still allowed.

He also required the closure of all theatres, facilities providing indoor recreational programs, public libraries, licensed child care centres and concert venues.

All organized public events with more than 50 people are prohibited.

The orders will remain in place until at least March 31.

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“We are facing an unprecedented time in our history,” Ford said. “This is a decision that was not made lightly. COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions. We are taking this extraordinary measure because we must offer our full support and every power possible to help our health care sector fight the spread of COVID-19. The health and well-being of every Ontarian must be our number one priority.”

In response to the provincial announcement, Grey-Bruce’s medical officer of health Dr. Ian Arra said he strongly recommends the adoption and implementation of the measures. Public health is also asking individuals to limit congregating in groups while maintaining safe social distancing.

“These facilities and businesses are among the locations where there is the highest risk for infection to spread,” Arra said in a statement. “Any steps that we all can take to reduce social contact have the potential to help decrease the spread of the virus. While the risk in Grey-Bruce remains lower than other areas, we are taking these enhanced measures to better help protect the health of our residents.”

The province’s emergency declaration came on the same day as the number of confirmed cases in Ontario of the novel coronavirus hit 185 and the province recorded its first death – a man in his 70s who died at Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie.

Like Shorty’s Grill, which employs 28 people, many restaurants and bars in Grey-Bruce opted to close their doors until further notice, while others said they will still prepare and sell takeout meals.

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Kris Heathers, owner of Elsie’s Diner near Owen Sound, said she decided to lay off all 13 of her employees.

She and her daughter Morgan Gaffney will continue to work at the restaurant until further notice, providing takeout orders only from a limited menu from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

They are also exploring the idea of offering meals for delivery.

“We wanted all our staff to go home and be safe,” Heathers said. “It’s not worth their risk and we want them to be home with their families.”

She said the situation is devastating, but necessary.

“Things are changing day by day. We had a plan yesterday and today that plan is different. We’re trying to do what we can to still have a service available,” she said.

Kris Heathers, left, owner of Elsie’s Diner, and her daughter Morgan Gaffney. SUPPLIED PHOTO
Kris Heathers, left, owner of Elsie’s Diner, and her daughter Morgan Gaffney. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Heathers said she was working Tuesday to prepare records of employment for her staff, so they can access Employment Insurance immediately. She was also getting their final paycheques ready even though their next payday isn’t until next Friday.

“I want them to have the money owed to them,” she said.

The federal government has said it will be waiving the one-week waiting period for people who are in quarantine or have been directed to self-isolate and are claiming for Employment Insurance. It is exploring additional measures to support other affected Canadians, including income support for those not eligible for EI.

Joanne Neerhof, owner of the Harrison Park Inn Restaurant, said she decided Monday – before the provincial declaration – to close the restaurant’s dining room and only offer takeout from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The restaurant also uses a local delivery service.

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The decision, she said, was made with the safety of the restaurant’s 30 employees, its customers and the community in mind.

Neerhof said she’s trying to be as fair as possible as she schedules staff over the next while.

She’s respecting the wishes of some employees who don’t feel comfortable working at this time, while ensuring those who have a single-income household and want to work will receive the most hours.

She said she felt it’s important to keep at least the takeout part of the business open.

“We have so many regulars. To me, if I was closed up in my house for two weeks, I’d go crazy with just my cooking. So I’m thinking people are going to want a Park Burger and some fries. They’re going to have those cravings so they’ve got to be able to have at least some access to that comfort food,” she said.

Alan Boivin, co-owner of Sail Restaurant and Catering Co., said the business’s restaurants in Owen Sound and Meaford have both moved to a takeout only model. Delivery is available in Owen Sound.

“We want to make sure that we’re an option for people to be able to feed themselves and their families,” he said. “We actually made the decision before the emergency declaration.”

Boivin said staff at Sail also prepare all the food for Home & Community Support Services of Grey-Bruce’s Meals on Wheel’s program in Owen Sound, Meaford and Thornbury, which will continue.

“It’s always been there for people who have trouble getting out to get a good, healthy balanced meal,” he said.

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Boivin said takeout has always been an important part of the company’s business and it makes sense fiscally to continue offering it for as long as possible.

“We’re obviously going to monitor it day by day. It’s got to continue to make financial sense, which we believe it will,” he said.

The day before the province declared the state of emergency, Owen Sound Little Theatre officials decided to close the Roxy Theatre to the public until further notice.

OSLT’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was supposed to open March 26, has been postponed to September, board president Corry Lapointe said. The theatre is contacting everyone who has purchased tickets to discuss their options.

“Everyone is understanding,” she said. “And when I met with the Curious Dog cast and crew on Friday, you can only imagine 10 days before opening night after four months of work, how they felt. And therefore, we promised them a postponement, not a cancellation.”

The June production Born Yesterday is still on the schedule for now.

Several concerts are planned for April at the Roxy and OSLT will be making an announcement within the next few weeks on whether or not those events will have to be rescheduled, executive director Robert More said.

Lapointe said the OSLT’s decisions to close the Roxy and postpone its March show were difficult, but were the right ones to make given the current circumstances.

“There’s disappointment, absolutely, across the board, but absolute understanding at the same time,” she said.

More said the best way to reach OSLT regarding upcoming events is by emailing boxoffice@roxytheatre.ca.

The restaurants providing takeout service are advising people to call them to place orders or for more information.

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