Coronavirus: London restaurants talk Stage 3 reopening plans, staying afloat during pandemic

Ivanopoblano and organic Mexican food restaurant on Wharncliffe Rd S in London On. July 16, 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

With Stage 3 allowing bars and restaurants to open indoor dining, some restaurants are ready to open while others want to take their time.

On Monday, Premier Doug Ford unveiled plans for Stage 3, which would see gathering limits increasing to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors starting this Friday.

The changes allow restaurants, bars and gyms to allow patrons indoors, provided they continue physical distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Read more: Ontario reopening Stage 3: Gathering limit increasing as indoor dining, gyms permitted to reopen

Ivan Santana-Barnes and his husband Christopher opened their restaurant Ivanopoblano in November, just a few months before the novel coronavirus forced businesses to shut down.

The organic Mexican restaurant has a small dining room, which has made them want to wait before they let people inside again.

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“We used to seat 26 people, but it was very communal, and now with six feet apart, it’s hard. Plus, we don’t feel safe yet,” Ivan said.

Since the initial shutdown, the two have been offering takeout and only allowing one person inside at a time to order. When Ontario reached Stage 2, Ivan said they were only given four days’ notice, which was not enough time to get a patio set up.

“It’s great to have the patio, but the problem is when it rains like today, we cannot open the patio, so it’s been hard, but we are getting through.”

The couple runs the restaurant entirely on their own, and to ensure safety, they take orders from a distance and have customers wait outside until its ready and bring their own food to their tables. The couple also makes sure all tables and the washrooms are disinfected after each use.

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He said another factor in not opening the inside of the restaurant is cost.

Because the restaurant has an open kitchen, they would have to install plexiglass both there and between all of the tables. Ivan said the added cost on top of building a patio is not something they are ready for, especially with the lost revenue over the past few months.

Looking at reopening, London’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Chris Mackie, did say the size of restaurants would play a factor in how easy it is to keep people safe.

“Some restaurants are not set up in a way that makes keeping your distance easy, so that’s what you need to be most cautious about, doing your best to keep two metres of separation from others,” Mackie said.

For others like Tim Owen, the owner of The Springs Restaurant, moving to Stage 3 is a bit more manageable and will also serve as a celebration.

Not only will they be reopening the inside of their restaurant, Owen says Friday will also mark nine years since it opened for the first time.

Read more: Coronavirus: London gyms and theatres ready for Stage 3 reopening

To ensure physical distancing, they had to reduce the number of tables they have inside by half, but Owen said it helps to have the two patios outside, which also has tents in the event of rain.

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“It’s been tough,” Owen said. “We did takeout in the early stages, and the spring has never really been known for takeout because our food is all about presentation and how nice the food can be.”

They have worked to set up safe procedures like taking down the names and phone numbers of all of the patrons and spacing out tables and only allowing one person inside to use the washroom at a time.

Owen said he is grateful not to have been hit by the pandemic as hard as other restaurants because he owns the building, and despite having to cut back on staffing numbers, he has been able to keep the majority of his employees.

“I just love seeing people smiling, have a good time and enjoying some food,” Owen said.

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