Rural Alberta restaurants taking a stand against upcoming public health restrictions

Several restaurants, pubs and cafes across rural Alberta plan to keep their doors open for indoor dining this Friday in defiance of public health restrictions.

Take-out service and patio dining is simply not an option for some locations that could be on the brink of closing their doors, such as Olds, Alta.’s Tasty Thai restaurant.

“It hurts the bottom line. My sales are down 40 per cent and no business can survive that with the cost of everything going up,” said owner Garnet Griepl.

“There’s really no money for employees and it’s not fair for them. We take COVID very seriously in our restaurant, everything is sanitized after every visit and we don’t think this is where the problem lies, especially if Costcos and Walmarts can stay open.”

Other eateries in the community including Our Flames Restaurant and Lounge will also stay open as owner, Prokopis Roussakos says the hospitality industry is being unfairly targeted.

“We’ve been shut down three times already, it’s cost us $20,000 to shut down and with three days notice, this time wasn’t enough either,” he said. “I’m pretty sure nothing will happen, as long as we continue following the safety protocols we’ll be fine.”

Roussakos adds that the response from the community has been incredible as hundreds of people are supporting the effort from restaurants to stay open.

Local regular customers like Darren MacDonald agree that small businesses are an extremely important asset in rural communities as many different agencies rely on their support.

“Without small business, you wouldn’t have local hockey teams supported, you wouldn’t have local events, local anything,” MacDonald said.

OLDS MAYOR ENCOURAGING BUSINESSES TO FOLLOW HEALTH GUIDELINES

Olds Mayor Michael Muzychka says small businesses are the ‘lifeblood’ of his community, but wants owners to follow health restrictions put in place by Alberta Health Services.

“I can understand the frustration with the new restrictions, but at the same time we encourage everyone to follow those rules,” he said.

“We know that people want to get back to a normal life but in good conscience we can’t encourage them to break these rules.”

Muzychka says he understands that some restaurants may not be able to open their doors again if they close their doors to indoor dining, but he notes that his community has been working hard to provide support.

“Right now we have instructed our planning and development apartment to fast track all applications for outdoor patios so if there are any local businesses that could open a patio, we will fast track those permits.”

Meanwhile, local MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, Nathan Cooper is one of 16 other UCP MLAs which have signed a letter to Premier Jason Kenney in opposition of the recent round of restrictions.

CONCERN OF COMMUNITY OUTBREAKS

While restaurant owners take a stand against public health measures, the spread of COVID-19 is still prevalent.

The R value – or the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to – is increasing in rural Alberta,

The R value for those areas outside of major cities like Calgary and Edmonton is currently 1.13, which is higher compared to the .96 rating in the first week of February or the .77 rating at the beginning of January.

Outbreaks in the town of Olds have also created concern. A total of 26 cases have been reported at Olds College, five of which remain active.

There has been no campus exposure, but students like Tyler Pelletier feel unnerved by the potential spread of the virus.

“At first I was a bit of a doubter about the COVID situation, but as time goes on, you realize it’s not something that’s going to go away anytime soon,” he said.

“We all just have to be vigilant and wear our masks, wash our hands and stay with it.”