Montreal's restaurants face uncertain future despite aid programs

While some of Montreal's closed businesses are preparing to re-open, the city's restaurants are still facing an uncertain future.

Some restaurants, such as Lafayette Hot Dog near the Gay Village, are still open for deliveries and takeout. But Lafayette co-owner Emmanuel Michakis said he doesn't know when he'll be able to fill up his dining room chairs again.

“We're still at the bottom of that list so we're just waiting,” he said. “We're doing our thing slowly, slowly, trying to keep ourselves alive and that's all we can do right now.”

Lafayette is currently running on a skeleton crew of three people, with 26 employees having been let go because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the staff had been working for the diner for over a decade.

“We couldn't afford to keep the staff on even with the subsidies the government is giving,” said co-owner William Gogas. “That's why we have to be here to do everything, to keep the business afloat so when the employees do come back, they'll have a job.”

The owners said if given permission to re-open they would ensure physical distancing measures were respected and even said they would install plexiglass separators in the dining room and have staff wear masks.

Montreal city councillor Luc Rabouin said the city is doing what it can to help restaurants survive.

“We've developed a lot of action programs, bike delivery, we developed a program of loans, different kinds of support for them,” he said.

Gogas said the loans have become just another burden.

“You're not helping the business, you're basically giving them an extra load on their back,” he said.

Rabouin warned Montrealers not to get their hopes up about the city's beloved terraces opening up any time soon.

“We really don't know, maybe we will have some terraces. It will be very hard to respect the two-metre social distance,” he said. “It's really the government of Quebec that will decide if we will have terraces this summer and when.”

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