Kitchener Bans Indoor Dining as COVID-19 Cases Surge
Public health officials have just announced plans to withdraw indoor dining in Kitchener from Friday, November 20, in a major blow to the city’s already ailing restaurant industry.
The city will enforce a ban on indoor eating for six weeks or through 2020. In addition, outdoor dining will be limited to groups of four living together “to prevent this virus from jumping from one household to another,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley in a press conference Monday. Take-out and delivery can continue as usual.
“We know a lot of restaurants work very hard to take our precautions, but indoor people gathering and not wearing masks are just too risky,” he says.
Kitchener restaurants were allowed to reopen their dining rooms to 25 percent capacity on Thursday, September 8, for the first time since March when a nationwide shutdown was ordered to slow the spread of COVID-19. Eating outdoors has been permitted since mid-June.
The city reported 1,158 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, November 13, surpassing more than 1,000 cases in a single day for the first time.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic is nearing its worst … we are well on our way to quadruple the number of cases by December 31,” Farley says. “The vaccine will be available in the coming months. We just have to talk ourselves into it by then.”
Nicole Marquis, co-founder of Save Kitchener restaurants and owner of the Latin American restaurant Bar Bombón, cocktail bar Charlie, was a sinner. Fast-casual chain HipCityVeg says it is “unrealistic” to limit outdoor dining to groups in the same household.
“I don’t know how you’re going to get something like that through. Are you asking for an electricity bill? We don’t think that restrictions on eating outdoors are logical, ”she says. “We haven’t seen any data showing a higher risk of socially distant eating outdoors.”
Save Kitchener Restaurants, a coalition signed by 50 independent restaurateurs from over 200 establishments, held a Zoom meeting this morning to discuss the latest shutdown news.
“The mood on the call was absolute frustration – everyone is upset and we are angry that we are here after eight months,” says Marquis. “We just put everyone on hold and now we’re looking at vacation.”
The coalition asked its restaurant members about the top priorities to be addressed. These include expanded access to free rapid COVID-19 tests, calls for more federal funding, and Congress to pass the Restaurants Act.
“It’s frustrating that we still don’t have the most basic tools we need to survive. It’s like paddling a boat ashore with a teaspoon, ”she says.
The indoor dining ban is a heavy blow to prolific Kitchener chef Jose Garces, who has just renovated and reopened the interior of The Olde Bar with pandemic-era private study corners.
“It’s unfortunate that after weeks of renovating our properties at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars in preparation for this moment, the city decided to close restaurants,” Scott Campanella, Garces COO, told Eater.
The most recent linchpin is the transformation of the Garces Trading Company into an e-commerce website for Christmas gifts and lunch packages for soccer, catering and Sunday Thanksgiving.
As the number of cases increased, Urban Village Brewing Company expanded its outdoor presence to include a huge covered terrace with a heating system.
“It was a big investment, but a necessary one as we are trying to survive this new normal and protect our employees and customers,” says co-owner Dave Goldman.
Last week the city announced plans to distribute an additional $ 30 million in CARES Act funds to hard-hit renters and small businesses across Kitchener.
Grubhub and the Greg Hill Foundation’s Restaurant Strong Fund are providing US $ 10,000 overwintering grants in Kitchener, New York, Chicago, and Boston. Restaurants with five locations or fewer can apply until Saturday, November 21st.
The city also prohibits public or private gatherings or events of any size. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 percent or 10 people per 1,000 square feet and no food or drink may be served to ensure people wear masks.
For the latest information on coronavirus cases in Kitchener, visit the city’s website.