Frigid Monday temperatures didn't stop St. Albertans from getting out for a meal at their favourite restaurants on their reopening day.
Across the city, meals were made and pints were poured for guests gathering in restaurants for the first time since COVID-19 restrictions shut down dining services in mid-December.
Ken Shebib, owner of Paddy's Pub & Kitchen in St. Albert, said visitors came steadily throughout the day, despite the bad weather.
"We finally had staff in and everybody was certainly upbeat," Shebib said.
"The customers that came in had really, really good things to say about being back out, and having some freedom and moving around a little bit."
Opening day was nice for Shebib, after months of a "roller-coaster" ride of opening the business in September and getting shut down in December.
In the last few months, Shebib said they ran delivery services to stay afloat and renovated while there were no customers inside the pub.
"I would think that it came close to covering costs, but certainly didn't cover costs. You're still into the red," Shebib said about their delivery services.
Endeavour Brewing Company co-owner and head brewer Matthew Atkins was also excited to reopen after a challenging year.
"We've already had lots of customers message us and say, 'We're coming for pints.' So it's great to see people are still coming back and happy to do it," Atkins said.
Atkins said in the last year, the company had to double its canning output and pour more growlers to make money while they were shut down.
"It's definitely been a challenging year. I mean, we're still here, but it definitely hurt for sure," Atkins said.
Loyal customers helped keep them going during the shutdown, asking how they could support them during the pandemic.
"It's exciting to see their faces again. And it'll be exciting to see people in the seats and the joy and the socialization happening again," Atkins said.
At St. Louis Bar and Grill, head bartender Chantal Mathiassen said it was good to get back to work after a few months off.
"It was fantastic. It was so nice," Mathiassen said.
The bartender said seeing both her coworkers and and regular guests come in felt great.
"It's like a big family reunion, basically, is the best way to put it."
Considering the cold weather, Mathiassen said they had a steady flow of guests coming in through the evening. Getting back into the routine of going to work also felt great – she spent the last two months off.
"It was just very different because I'm so used to talking to people constantly and having lots of interactions and going from all of that to nothing was a huge adjustment," Mathiassen said.
With all the COVID-19 precautions taken at St. Louis, along with restaurants across the city, Mathiassen said she feels safe going back to work. Social distancing, hand washing, masking, constant cleaning and sanitizing and Plexiglas barriers make the bartender feel like she is in a safe environment.
"Our main priority is keeping all of our guests safe. And we're set up with the means that we're able to do that," Mathiassen said.
Curtis Crouse, chair for the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, said restaurants have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic and it was difficult for them to plan around the opening and closing that has happened over the past year.
"I know that a lot of restaurants have been hit hard," Crouse said.
"Personally, that's one of the biggest things that I missed over the course of all of this is eating out and going to restaurants. They're just such an important part of the fabric of our business community."
Restaurants were allowed to open for in-person dining as part of the first step of Alberta's reopening plan. Restaurants must collect contact information from one person in each dining party and tables are allowed to have up to six people as long as they are all from the same household. Those who live alone are allowed to dine with two close contacts.
Bars and restaurants must stop serving liquor at 10 p.m. daily and must close by 11 p.m.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette