Shawn Harnett has been scrambling to organize a take-out service, powerwash the restaurant’s patio, and move tables and furniture outside following the March 19 announcement. Patrick Penner / Mission Record.

Shawn Harnett has been scrambling to organize a take-out service, powerwash the restaurant’s patio, and move tables and furniture outside following the March 19 announcement. Patrick Penner / Mission Record.

Unexpected indoor-dining restrictions putting Mission restaurants at risk, owners say

Lost inventory, substantial layoffs, anxiety follow March 19 announcement of three-week suspension

Shawn Harnett had just finished packing a few thousand dollars worth of food into his restaurant’s cooler when he heard a new round of COVID-19 restrictions would prohibit indoor dining.

Mission’s Scratch Restaurant, Patio and Lounge opened just two weeks ago, after having delayed opening its doors for a year due to the first wave of the pandemic.

“Without them giving us any notice, they just put my whole inventory at risk,” Harnett said, adding $12,000 worth of food sits in the cooler, ready to be cooked. “That’s enough to put us under if we couldn’t sell it.

“I don’t think it could have been worse timing.”

On March 29, the provincial government announced a three-week suspension on all indoor dining and liquor sales, as well as indoor adult group fitness and religious services. Dr. Bonnie Henry called the move a “circuit breaker” to stop a recent spike in COVID cases.

The announcement put Harnett into a scramble to organize a take-out service, powerwash the restaurant’s patio, and move tables and furniture outside. And even though they have substantial deck space, he said they’re still halving the number of patrons they can serve.

“We have to move fast,” he said. “The community is behind us, they’re donating like patio heaters, but at the end of the day we’re going to need to make money.”

The restaurant has laid off 80 per cent of its staff, keeping only four on, according to Harnett.

Kerry Martin, the restaurateur of The Blackberry Kitchen, said he was surprised to hear the news, considering how the province has been touting dining establishments for their adaptation to safe COVID-19 practises.

“This one caught me off guard, I wasn’t expecting this at all,” he said.

Unlike Harnett’s restaurant, The Blackberry Kitchen doesn’t have the option of immediately opening its patio until the warmer months arrive, as it’s uncovered and catches a lot of wind, Martin said.

They’re going to focus on their take-out canteen in Fraser River Heritage Park, he said, but it doesn’t come close to supplanting the lost income for indoor service.

Martin said if he’d known what the province had coming ahead of time, he could have saved thousands by reducing or cancelling his orders.

“It’s financially decimating, especially after being financially impacted negatively (during the pandemic). This is quite a severe blow,” he said, adding they’ve had to layoff, or reduce hours for a dozen staff members.

Both restaurateurs said they’re wary of the length of the suspension, and worry about it being extended beyond April 19.

Harnett said he doesn’t understand why indoor dining was targeted, as he sees more COVID-19 health violations out shopping in public than in restaurants.

“I was just at Costco and it’s packed and people are touching oranges and putting them back, standing shoulder to shoulder,” Harnett said. “While I’m going bankrupt, Costco will be cashing huge profits.”

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