Halifax-area restaurants scrambling to reopen as closure order lifts early

·3 min read

After a dismal 2020, restaurant owners like Kelly Cormier do not want to start 2021 by turning any potential customers away.

That, she said, "would be devastating."

But it's a possibility she and her husband are facing as they scramble to reopen their Quinpool Road diner, the Ardmore Tea Room, a week earlier than expected.

On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, Cormier learned, along with the rest of Nova Scotia, that the provincial government was changing its timeline for lifting COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants in the Halifax area.

Because case numbers remained low over the holidays, dining rooms that have been closed since the last week of November can now reopen to customers as soon as Monday.

Cormier said it was mostly good news, but it comes with some major challenges. As of Saturday, she was still uncertain about whether she'd be able to meet the new reopening date.

"It was such short notice and food suppliers don't really deliver on weekends, so it's a bit of a trick … to get open by Monday," Cormier said Saturday morning.

While she spoke with CBC on the phone, she said her husband was busy texting staff — who were laid off from the Ardmore in November when the government-imposed shutdown began — to check their availability.

Some restaurants staying closed

Cormier said the late notice felt to her like a "disrespectful" move on the government's part.

"We're lucky we're small," she said. "We probably can push through and be open on Monday, but there's lots of places that can't."

Among them is Bar Kismet, a pasta restaurant and cocktail bar in north-end Halifax, which is staying closed until Jan. 12.

"The lack of notice from the province and the restaurant association combined with the timing of the 'announcement' posted on the Internet left us with no notice for ordering, scheduling or prepping properly," owner Jenner Cormier (no relation to Kelly Cormier) told CBC in an email.

Dilly Dally, a Quinpool Road coffee shop, is also waiting. It's owners took to Facebook to explain why.

"Like you, we were surprised that the government announced an end to the restrictions a week early. At this time, we are not comfortable opening our dining area. We are going to err on the side of caution for the health & safety of our Dilly Family and community, and look forward to welcoming you back for dine in on JANUARY 11th," the post read.

Restaurant association requested the early reopening

Still, Gordon Stewart thinks those who will remain closed are in the minority.

The executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia said he expects 90 per cent of restaurants will take advantage of the early reopening date.

"The ones that will be more challenged to be open are the ones whose formula relies on late-night business," Stewart said, referring to Public Health's rule that last call has to be made at 10 p.m., and doors have to close by 11 p.m.

Stewart's organization requested the early reopening. He said it seemed like an opportune time because of case numbers, and one that shouldn't be passed up.

"We had actually sent [Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang] a letter on Monday and he responded saying, 'How much time do you need to open?' That was a signal to us — this probably was a chance to be open."

Stewart said he knows it will be challenging for some, and pointed to the same issues as the restaurant owners did —bringing in supplies and staff in short order. He said a five-days notice, mid-week, would have been ideal.

But, he said he thinks "restaurants can do it in less than that."

Although January is typically a slow time in the hospitality industry, Stewart said he's hopeful the early reopening will be met with "pent up demand."

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