Several Halifax restaurants are closing temporarily
Terry Vassallo could feel it coming last week, the string of voluntary restaurant closings that sped up Monday.
Vassallo, the co-owner of Mappatura Bistro with his wife, Simone, has decided to return to the takeout model they adopted last spring, when the pandemic first came to Halifax.
“Just watching it, cases started popping up. A lot of places coming up with advisories were restaurants and bars, and it’s a very tight community,” Vassallo said Monday in his quiet and dark restaurant.
“I feel like we’re at our best when we’re all supportive of each other. We started feeling for everybody and we felt like we were just one call away from public health saying there was an incident here. We could still get that call.”
Mappatura is far from alone. Social media channels had lists of restaurants that have announced closures or modifications to their business model. The Old Triangle posted on Twitter that it would close mid-afternoon on Monday. And the Chef Inspired group of restaurants has closed its Halifax-area Cheese Curds and Habaneros stores for in-house dining for the next two weeks.
At Mappatura Bistro, it’ll be takeout only, starting on Wednesday.
“We started thinking about that last week because . . . a lot of our clients were a lot more comfortable picking up food,” Vassallo said.
“We had a dental office that we catered their Christmas party with takeout, delivered it to the office and left it at the door. That was last week, and that, for us, was the signal that things were starting to change.”
Vassallo can see how COVID could be transmitted in restaurants because of how much time people spend there without a mask on. He said the restriction on numbers in restaurants announced by the province on Friday was a step in the right direction but ultimately not enough.
“If we can just stump this right now, we might be able to salvage a little bit moving forward,” he said, adding that closing the dining room now is worse than it was in March because of how important the Christmas season is, especially on the heels of a slow summer.
“We’re hoping that science can be on our side in this one, maybe a two-week closure is just what we need and we can get those numbers down.”
A few blocks away, Kourosh Rad, the owner of Garden Food Bar, spent much of Monday preparing records of employment for the 27 employees he laid off the day before.
“We felt that for the safety of our guests, for the safety of our employees, that we had an important decision to make. The sooner we contain the virus this time around, the sooner we can all get back to business. So it’s a public health benefit, and also for the sake of the economy, our fragile local economy,” Rad said.
“We also employ older people in our kitchen and we want to make sure we protect them. And protect public health.”
Garden Food Bar will keep three employees on to take care of the takeout and delivery business. Rad said the restaurant is “better positioned than last time” to do business that way because systems are already in place.
“It’s the second rodeo. We’ll shut down for a short while. I’m hoping it’s not for more than two or three weeks but it’s totally out of our hands,” he said.
“The majority of our employees were totally understanding. We have extended health and dental, we’re not going to take that away while people are off, and we explained the EI program and how they qualified for it. The reason for doing this, everyone understands that, and they appreciate the urgency of the matter and the fact we have to do this so we can get back to the level of business we had before.”
In Newfoundland, the Bigs restaurant in St. John’s is closed after the owner learned a customer who had been there last week later tested positive for COVID. The restaurant’s website said the diner had travelled to Nova Scotia.
The current plan is for the Bigs to reopen Friday, but a staff member who was in close contact with the customer is waiting for test results.
Also on Monday, Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. announced they’re opting out of the Atlantic bubble and are implementing stricter travel restrictions.