WESTLOCK – Faced with a decision to close to walk-in customers, or require proof of vaccination to keep their lights on and tables open for patrons, Westlock eateries will be offering a smorgasbord of choices, with at least one business owner selecting different options for his two standalone restaurants.
Starting today, Sept. 20, all Alberta restaurants, bars, cafés and nightclubs will either close entirely to walk-in customers, while still being able to offer restricted outdoor dining, as well as pickup, takeout and delivery, or participate in the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP). The program, which was announced Sept. 15 during the provincial state of public health emergency declaration, means that anyone older than 12 wanting to dine inside has to show proof of at least one dose of immunization against COVID-19, a negative PCR or rapid test no older than 72 hours, or documentation of a medical exemption — proof of a single dose will only be accepted until Oct. 25, then proof of full vaccination will be needed.
Anecdotally, Westlock-area restaurants are all over the map. Some, like Apollo Pizza, the Westlock Inn, A&W and even Westlock Bowl will participate in REP, while others, including DQ, Ramzi’s and Kerri’s Café will not — for the restaurants participating in the program, unvaccinated patrons can still order takeout, or use the drive thru, but can’t eat in.
For David Truckey, who owns Apollo and DQ, choosing to participate in REP specifically for Apollo made financial sense. Throughout the pandemic restaurants have been forced to close to walk-in customers numerous times and doing it again would have meant another round of staff layoffs. And for DQ, which has a drive-thru window, Truckey said it would have been a logistical nightmare having one staffer at the front door checking for proof of vaccination. The length of the stay for the customers at both locations is also different, Truckey noted, which also factored into the decision.
“Every restaurant owner and manager has had many sleepless nights in the last 18 months and it was a sleepless night again following the recent announcement. There are a number of challenges and the first one is: if you have to lay-off staff again, you run the risk again of not being able to get that staff back. What we’re really trying to do is stay in business at this point,” said Truckey.
“I understand this issue is divisive and people are passionate about what they believe in and that’s fine. I’m not trying to offend anybody and I’m not taking a political stand. But at the end of the day I cannot afford to pay the fines, or lose my operating permit from Alberta Health Services. That’s the reality.”
Kerri’s Café owner Kerri-lee Kostiw, who opened last year just before COVID hit, said REP was not an option for her due to staffing.
“I don’t have the staff to have someone at the door screening people and we can’t pay someone to do that. We are already having to cut back on staffing and we’re anticipating less business because we won’t have indoor dining,” said Kostiw.
While the restrictions are once again creating a stressful environment for all business owners, Kostiw understands the need.
“I really do think that’s our only solution. This isn’t going to be a short-term thing, it’s going to take months and honestly vaccines are the only option for our society to be able to move forward. Until then I can only keep my business open.”
Through previous restrictions the café fell back on a take-out-only model which worked well and will be used again for this round.
“We have no choice. It’s either close or do this and I’m not about to close. This is the reality and we just have to do what works best for us,” she said.
• With files from Spencer Kemp-Boulet.