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Business as ‘un’usual: Chef Antonio Park adjusts and readjusts to the new restaurant normal

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WATCH: In the first episode of her series Business as ‘Un’usual - Aalia Adam speaks to Montreal chef Antonio Park about pivoting from a high-end dining experience at his Japanese restaurant to takeout and delivery.

It’s no secret that celebrity Chef Antonio Park takes a lot of pride in his food.

From the taste to the ingredients to the presentation, every detail matters at high-end Japanese Restaurant Park in Montreal.

So when Park was forced to shut down all his restaurants in March due to COVID-19, it wasn’t easy to switch to takeout and delivery.

“There was no other way. Either you stay home and not have an operation or either you do takeout and delivery,” he told Global News.

“It was a very difficult in the beginning.”

READ MORE: Restaurants are set to reopen, but your meal will come with a side of COVID-19 rules

Two weeks into the lockdown, Park was back in business.

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“I wanted to make sure that my boxes of sushi don’t move. My hot dish stays warm when it goes to the home,” he said.

He offered only three dishes at first: one cold, one room temperature, and one hot. “From there, I built on and on.”

READ MORE: Some Alberta restaurants struggling despite being allowed to reopen

When he was finally able to re-open the dining area in June, he once again had to think outside the box.

“It’s like a ball of snow at the top of a mountain. Once you let it go, it gets bigger and bigger,” he said.

READ MORE: Restaurants may never go back to ‘normal’ after COVID-19, experts say

In August, he showed Global News the new changes he made to the restaurant. There is more seating outside on the patio and only 60 per cent capacity inside.

“We decided to put plexiglass in between each and every table. If we don’t have plexiglass, we have social distancing, two metres apart,” he said.

READ MORE: Summer patios beckon, but thanks to COVID-19, they won’t be quite the same

Cleaning and sanitizing chairs, tables and menus is something else staff has had to take on to ensure everything is sanitized properly for their clients.

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And just as they were all adapting to the new routine, things changed again.

As of Oct. 1, a rise in COVID-19 cases put Montreal in red alert status.

READ MORE: Red alert level brings partial 28-day lockdown to 3 Quebec regions including Montreal, Quebec City

Like all restaurants, Park’s dining area is closed for 28 days.

“I was very mad the first day,” Park said.

“It’s like we just hit a wall. They’re not giving us anything to support.”

The main frustration, he said, came from all the time, effort and cost it took to put the COVID precautions in place at the restaurant.

“Not just for me but for all the other restauranteurs who put in the same infrastructure with the plexiglass, the dividers, cleaning the rooms.”

Still, Park said he is remaining positive, because he doesn’t have much of a choice if he wants his business to survive.

He’s come full circle, back to takeout, with an extended menu and larger delivery radius.

“As long as I have a breath in my mouth, I will push myself. I won’t stop giving all I got.”

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