Restaurant owners who defied previous COVID-19 dine-in health bans say many others are joining their cause as regulations tighten once again.
Christopher Scott owner of Mirror’s Whistle Stop Cafe, has been a vocal opponent of previous health regulations banning in-person dining and is not backing down this time either.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced the province was reverting back to Step 1 of his reopening plan because of a surge of new cases, including a particularly troubling increase in the number of the more contagious virus variants. Starting Friday at noon, in-person dining at restaurants except on patios will be prohibited.
Scott said his cellphone and social media blew up after Kenney made his announcement of tougher health measures.
“In the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten probably 500 messages,” he said on Wednesday morning.
Many of those contacting him are other eatery owners asking about his experiences staying open earlier this year and seeking advice on what to do.
“Now, a lot of these places are in the same position I was, where if they close they’re done.”
Scott’s battle against what he sees as overly restrictive and ineffective health measures led to him being slapped with closure orders. He was also charged with disobeying the Public Health Act, a case that will return to Stettler provincial court on April 22.
Scott said he is planning to hold the “biggest spectacle of a protest that Alberta’s ever seen” at his cafe sometime in the near future. He is keeping details quiet for now so as not to tip off the authorities.
“It’s going to be a surprise because I don’t particularly want to have a blockade of police cars here. I know they padlocked Grace Life Church and they’re really doubling down on their enforcement.
“I’m pretty stressed about that. I have a feeling they’re going to try to hit us hard.”
Grace Life Church, in Parkland County west of Edmonton, was shut down earlier this week for repeatedly defying occupancy limits for services.
Scott is critical of the government’s financial support programs, saying many have been unable to tap into funding. Scott said he received some wage subsidy help last year, but will have to pay some back because he did not meet a financial threshold.
He and many business owners are paying staff out of their own pockets to stay open, he said.
Premier Jason Kenney was asked about business pandemic support on Thursday. He said the government had given out more than $500 million in three separate rounds, and a fourth round of support for businesses hit hardest by the latest restrictions, will be coming out soon.
Scott feels he has taken reasonable steps to protect his customers. Separation distances are maintained, and single-use plates, utensils and menus are used.
“All of the things that make sense and are sustainable, we’re doing,” he said. “We’re not throwing caution to the wind.”
Red Deer’s Mom’s Diner owner Wesley Langlois also intends to keep serving customers in his ’50s-style restaurant in West Park.
“We’re going to stay open with the rest of them. I’m hoping a lot more are going to follow suit,” he said.
“But after watching what’s going on with Grace Life Church, it makes it kind of scary.”
“There’s big risk, but the community needs somewhere to go. It’s about that as well as keeping your business alive.”
Like Scott, Langlois immediately heard from supporters after Kenney’s announcement.
“We had people already calling to make reservations from Calgary and Edmonton for the weekend. The support is massive.”
Among those reaching out to him were restaurant owners in Olds and Sundre who were considering not closing down this time although they had previously.
Langlois, who also has a case before the courts, is open to other options than defying regulations again. He is trying to find a tent that he could put in the parking lot near his cafe to offer outside dining, which is allowed.
A number of other central Alberta restaurants have also told customers via social media that they plan to remain serving indoors despite the ban including: Tasty Thai in Olds and Sundre, and Tracks Pub and Our Flames Restaurant and Lounge, both in Olds.