Hamilton restaurant owner says COVID-19 shutdown will be ‘crippling’ to industry

A shutdown notice posted on the door of Ye Olde Squire on Main Street West in Hamilton on March 17, 2020. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Hamilton’s restaurant owners are worried about how a provincial order to close all restaurants and bars amid the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term impacts.

Premier Doug Ford ordered the closure of all restaurants, bars, theatres, libraries, child-care centres and recreation programs in Ontario as he declared a state of emergency in the province on Tuesday morning.

The order also banned any public events or gatherings of more than 50 people until March 31 in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus to keep the health care system functioning.

Michael Cipollo, who runs HamBRGR and Lost+Found in Hamilton and St. Catharines, tells Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show that the restaurant industry may not recover from being forced to close their doors for several weeks.

Story continues below advertisement

“I think it’s going to be crippling to the industry,” said Cipollo. “I’ve been in this business my entire life and worked for big billion-dollar companies to independents, and you just don’t bounce back from this. Period. No matter what your financial situation is.”

Cipollo said they had made the decision to close their restaurants ahead of the provincial order Tuesday due to concerns from staff, who were encouraged to stay home without repercussions if they felt uncomfortable being at work.

He also said they wanted to do the right thing, as health care officials urged people to practice social distancing to limit the spread of the virus.

“We were shocked at the amount of people that were still coming, or trying to come,” said Cipollo. “We were still seeing people choosing to go out, and I think that’s why the premier made this decision.”

Story continues below advertisement

The situation has been similar at a Hamilton restaurant that’s been steadily busy on the shores of Lake Ontario since it was established in 1946.

Hutch’s On The Beach will only be offering take-out at its Van Wagners Beach Road location, starting Wednesday.

General manager Rick Creechan said the social distancing plea from health officials didn’t seem to be having an impact on business as recently as this past weekend.

“Just to give you an idea, Sunday we were shoulder to shoulder,” said Creechan. “And we’re panicking, because we’re thinking, ‘Are we doing the right thing here?’

“I was glad the province said, ‘This is it’. That makes it easy. OK, shut down, shut down.”

Before the announcement from the province, Creechan said they had reduced their hours and delayed seasonal hiring that usually begins around this time.

He recognized, though, that not many restaurants in Hamilton will be able to weather the storm the same way.

“I think we’re lucky that we can do what we’re going to do. Hopefully it works out; we’ll have to see,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“If the government says you can’t do that, then we’ll stop doing that too. I feel sorry for the smaller places that probably couldn’t do the things that we’re doing.”

The federal government is expected to make a major announcement about supporting the economy on Wednesday.

“The impacts are going to be mindblowing if the federal government doesn’t step up like we’ve seen happen in other countries,” said Cipollo.

“For us ourselves, complete clarity, there’s really no telling if anybody’s going to be able to survive after March 31 if something doesn’t drastically happen.

Hamilton’s public health department is encouraging residents to support local eateries through takeout or delivery options if they’re available.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city’s medical officer of health, said their team was visiting restaurants and bars throughout Hamilton on Tuesday to reinforce the shutdown.

Story continues below advertisement

“I really want to underscore that — by and large, as the premier said this morning — people do do the right thing, and we’ve definitely found that when we’ve been out there today. Most people had already voluntarily closed and we definitely saw people, when we made them aware, if had not already been aware, that they were quick to say they would come into compliance.”

Richardson also acknowledged that the closures were announced on St. Patrick’s Day, but urged everyone to celebrate at home, in moderation.

The shutdown comes as Hamilton has experienced its first case of COVID-19 that was transmitted through the community instead of travel.

Sponsored content