The owner of Mile End Neapolitan pizza place Kesté is planning to reopen his business at full capacity on January 30 — in violation of the province’s ongoing COVID-19 shutdown.
The restaurant announced its intention to do so on Instagram Wednesday, sharing a photo of a flyer calling on restaurateurs, sports associations, businesses, and entrepreneurs to “take back their rights.” The flyer also states that vaccine passport QR codes will not be scanned on that day, a health and safety requirement that’s been in place in Quebec since September 1, 2021.
Explaining the reasons for the decision in the Instagram caption, the restaurant called recent measures “arbitrary” and the lockdown “unnecessary.”
The province reported 68 new deaths due to COVID-19 today, with a total of 3,085 hospitalizations.
In an interview with CTV, Kesté owner Luigi Esposito says other restaurants are following his lead, but did not specify which ones. Earlier today, the restaurant said that Laval café and sandwich counter Café-teria Europa had initially posted the flyer, inspiring it to follow suit.
“If something doesn’t change and we don’t take a stand small businesses will turn into something of the past,” Esposito’s Instagram post reads.
Restaurant dining rooms in Quebec have been closed since December 31, 2021, in response to widespread community transmission of the omicron variant. Meanwhile, bars were mandated to shut down on December 20. The province has previously stated that individuals and businesses violating COVID-19 measures risk up to $6,000 in fines or a forced closure.
Yesterday (January 13), Quebec premier François Legault announced that the province’s nightly curfew would be ending on Monday, January 17, but did not say when rules applying to restaurants would be relaxed, other than to say he hopes it’ll be “in the next few weeks.”
Responding to a question at yesterday’s presser about an unnamed Montreal restaurateur’s plan to reopen at the end of the month, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said, “I would ask this restaurant owner and all other merchants to be patient. I know it’s difficult. We’ve put in measures to help them financially.”
The province has relaunched its business assistance program, the AERAM, plus additional support for food loss in the face of the short-notice New Year’s Eve closure. However, a number of businesses that opened during the pandemic have been vocal about not qualifying for the aid. Meanwhile, the food loss program doesn’t cover the amount restaurants and bars sunk into stocking their shelves with booze for end-of-year parties, much less the additional time spent obtaining libations during an SAQ labour dispute and ongoing product shortages.
As for restaurant workers, those faced with unexpected job loss and who don’t qualify for Employment Insurance are left with the federal government’s new Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB), a program that grants a meagre $300 a week ($270 after taxes).
Given that, one cannot help but wonder if restaurateurs, understandably frustrated, might be better off lobbying the government for meaningful financial support for their businesses and employees amid COVID-19 closures, instead of choosing to openly flout safety mandates during the latest wave of the pandemic.