Tucked away next to Nipa Chaiboonye’s downtown Salmon Arm restaurant is an opportunity to make lemonade from the lemons dealt from ongoing pandemic restrictions.
“I’ve had this space here forever, it’s licensed… I never thought to open it. But people love to sit outside – it’s going to be nice,” said the enthusiastic Chiang Mai Orchid Restaurant owner Friday, April 16, of her patio pivot amidst provincial health orders announced on March 29, preventing indoor dining but permitting patio dining over a three-week period.
On Monday, April 19, the same day B.C. restaurateurs anticipate the province will be announcing an extension to the pause on in-door dining – possibly until the May long weekend – Chaiboonye plans to be at her outdoor grill serving up street food.
“It’s going to be a fun summer, just like street food in Thailand, that’s what we’ll do,” said Chaiboonye.
Stu and Kathy Bradford at the Barley Station Brew Pub have also been able to patio pivot, having submitted a successful application to the province to add additional outdoor space near their existing patio. Stu said the process was easy and quick, and it allowed them to make up for much of the indoor seating. The catch, however, is the weather.
“As long as the weather cooperates, we’ll be able to make it,” said Stu, adding customer takeout has also helped a lot.
It’s lunch hour and there are four people making use of Michael Vu’s patio at Hanoi 36. Under normal conditions the empty tables in his restaurant would be filled with diners. He is not looking forward to seeing those tables remain empty in the coming weeks.
“We were holding our breath until this Monday, hoping they would lift the restrictions, but from other sources we found out they’re extending them until the end of May, which makes it very difficult for us…,” said Vu, explaining that while the patio seating and takeout service helps, it doesn’t make up for the loss of indoor diners. “It was a pretty tough winter, and these are the months we hoped it would pick up so it would average out over the entire year. But, you know, with the restrictions, it’s hard to stay afloat.”
Vu said the restrictions also make it difficult to keep staff working– something he’s endeavouring to do nonetheless.
“We’re a small town and everybody wants to support us, but it’s kind of hard to with limited seating. It’s more than an inconvenience.”
Prior to the March 29 order, Adam and Jenna Meikle had envisioned a patio in front of their new downtown addition, The Night Cafe. Now open, the patio offers their only seating.
“We’re already reduced to half capacity, now we’re reduced to outdoor dining… We have eight chairs outside, so we can serve eight people at a time. With a little simple math, you can’t raise a family, run a business on this kind of funds,” said Adam, frustrated and concerned that another two or three weeks of restrictions will be followed by more of the same.
“I realize that it’s a virus, and we’re trying to mitigate, but it’s now doing more harm than good and the solution is not lockdowns.”
Adding to the frustration for Adam has been the unpredictability of the pandemic and related provincial health orders.
“There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, but the thing with all of the restrictions is there’s no goal post, they didn’t give us anything to base anything off of,” said Adam. “It’s so unpredictable. Do we hire staff? Do we bring back more laid off staff? Is it going to be a busy summer? Are we allowed to travel? Are there going to be any functions? How do we plan for anything?”
Bistro 1460 owner, Chef Darren Bezanson, expected the province would extend its pause on indoor dining until Mother’s Day – typically a popular day for dining out.
“You have Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve, those are your biggest days,” said Bezanson. “Unfortunately, we’re going to miss out on that, so we either have to come up with a plan to make some adjustments, some takeout maybe. It’s one of those ones that sting a bit, but I understand why they’re doing it.”
Bezanson opened the restaurant, located at the Hilltop Inn, a little under a year ago, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the timing, and in addition to the challenge of being a new restaurant having to make a name for itself, Bistro 1460 had been doing just that. The loss of indoor dining, however, has affected momentum, and left Bezanson with a feeling restaurants are being singled out.
“You’ve shut us down, we’re not allowed to have indoor dining, but the case numbers are still going up… you kind of take it a little bit personal when you’re finally seeing a bit of recovery and then boom… and you look around at all these other businesses that are still open.”
Bistro 1460, currently open for dinner, does offer a furnished patio where Bezanson continues to offer a farm-to-table dining experience. The restaurant is also offering take-out.
“We’re still fairly new in the area and some people are like, ‘We didn’t know you exist…’ We still have a very loyal and very great clientele,” said Bezanson. “The people who are supporting us are doing everything they can, even though everyone has limited resources right now, and we very much appreciate everything.”
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