The owners of St-Henri resto-bar Loïc are speaking out after Montreal police reportedly ordered them to close down for serving take-out food.
According to online posts from Loïc’s owners, officers from the SPVM’s “morality squad” (which handles specific issues related to alcohol, drugs, and sex work) came to Loïc’s Notre-Dame West address on Friday evening and forced it to stop operations immediately. Loïc was only serving take-out and delivery food, and not operating as a bar.
In the post on Instagram, the owners noted that they had closed in mid-March, as part of the broader closure of bars and other recreational establishments across Quebec aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus.
View this post on Instagram
Yesterday, March 27th, at around 9pm the Morality Police visited Loïc and told us we were no longer allowed to remain operational for takeout and delivery. They said the reason is that we are licensed as a bar and therefore had to remain closed. This is in spite of the fact we have a Permis Restaurateur issued to us by the MAPAQ. As is public knowledge Loïc has always served food as part of our offering. On March 15th we closed our doors for regular operations, as per government requirement. At that time we were forced to terminate all of our employees so that they could apply for financial aid. Upon having to do this we -- Max, Mikey, Liam and Joey --the proprietors of Loïc, decided to do takeout and delivery as a temporary solution. Our outlook, was then and remains now, that if we could do all the work ourselves we would possibly be able to generate enough revenue to not put any further strain on the already overloaded financial services of our government and also provide a service that our community could safely benefit from. From our perspective this was the responsible, proactive, and safe solution to a problem that is effecting everyone, and in particular, people who work in our industry. The decision of the Morality Police to stop our operations puts the future of Loïc and our team in a compromising situation, more so, than we had already found ourselves in. We are now working towards new solutions to serve you and protect Loïc's future. We want to thank everyone for the tremendous amount of support. It has been the silver lining to these trying times. We will have updates for all. Please stay tuned for new plan of action. Your continued support is greatly appreciated. ❤️❤️ Please share post.
Given that restaurants in Quebec are permitted to remain open for take-out or delivery, Loïc re-opened its kitchen last week offering those services, noting that it had already laid off all its workers, and that a prolonged closure would leave the establishment in even more of a state of financial precarity. Owner Max Ruiz-Laing tells Eater that only one customer was allowed on premises at a time, and that the very limited number of staff were all following social distancing guidelines.
The rules around closures for COVID-19 did leave Loïc in somewhat of a grey area — it holds a bar permit from the Régie des Alcools, des Courses et des Jeux, and that was the justification that Montreal police used to close them down. However, when the police intervened, Loïc was effectively operating as a restaurant: it was serving food only for take-out and delivery, and was selling unopened bottles of wine to go (much like a number of other restaurants in the city).
Ruiz-Laing says that given the widespread nature of the coronavirus crisis, it was disconcerting to see Montreal police enforcing such minor technicalities of the law.
“It’s a question as to whether that’s the kind of environment that the provincial government wants to be fostering now, a kicking small business while they’re down kind of attitude, and whether this is a useful or appropriate deployment of government resources.”
On top of that, Ruiz-Laing also noted that the SAQ had even sent a mass email out to restaurant and bar owners advertising that they could sell wine on a to-go basis. That email neglected to mention that only venues with restaurant permits could open and sell wine in such a manner.
“We’re not trying to argue that the bar should be open...it just feels like we’re being discouraged to stay afloat.”
Loïc’s owners have started a petition over the issue; as of Monday morning, it had gathered over 2,000 signatures. Ruiz-Laing says that the goial of the petition isn’t to push the government into allowing Loïc to open again, but rather to just demonstrate that the closure of Loïc was an overreach.
“The petition is to just get people to show their support and [to show] that what they were doing is this inappropriate use of resources and [legal] force.”
For their part, Loïc’s owners argue that because they hold a “restauration” permit from MAPAQ, the ministry responsible for food inspections, they should be allowed to remain open as a restaurant. However, when differentiating between bars and restaurants, the provincial government typically looks to a venue’s Régie permit, not the food handling permit issued by MAPAQ.
Technically speaking, that means the police likely had the right to close Loïc — but as some commenters noted on Loïc’s petition, this was a technicality of sorts, and perhaps not the best use of police time, given that the bar was operating in an identical fashion to countless restaurants around the city.