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‘It’s baloney’: Winnipeg restaurant owner frustrated by measure closing his business due to licence

The owner of La Roca is frustrated with the province over licensing issues.
The owner of La Roca is frustrated with the province over licensing issues. La Roca Mexican Restaurant / Facebook

The owner of a downtown Winnipeg restaurant says he’s frustrated with the province’s latest COVID-19 restrictions, as a liquor licensing loophole means his business has to close, while similar eateries are allowed to stay open.

Wade Salchert, owner of La Roca, told 680 CJOB his business is one of 15 food service operations in Winnipeg with an entertainment licence — which means it falls into a grey area when it comes to Manitoba’s efforts at battling the coronavirus.

“I can’t speak for all (restaurants with entertainment licences) but I do know a few of them, including my own, that operate entirely as a restaurant,” he said.

“If you come out for dinner, it’s like any other restaurant. Ever since restrictions came into play a month back — you can’t open past 11:00, obviously social distancing is required, and sanitation is required… We’re doing it as well as anybody. The volume isn’t any different, the spacing is the same, etc.

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“I think (Premier Brian) Pallister dropped the ball on this one. He caused the furlough of hundreds of Winnipeggers in one shot without looking at it.”

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Salchert said he’s frustrated by the province’s quick reversal earlier this week. The government initially shut down beverage rooms — food and beverage establishments connected to hotels — and “entertainment facilities,” only to change course just hours after the restrictions went into effect Monday and allow beverage rooms to open.

Salchert said that while bars and strip clubs can remain open, his business — for all intents and purposes, a restaurant — has to stay shuttered.

“How does that seem reasonable to you? I don’t go to strip bars, but I know what strip bars are like… In a nightclub or a strip bar, it’s going to be over 80 decibels (the sound limit for beverage rooms). Somebody made a mistake here.

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“My staff are now going home wondering if they’re going to make rent. They want to work. Show me the science that La Roca presents a greater risk for COVID transmission. There is none — it’s baloney.”

Salchert said he looked into changing his licence but was told it’ll take six to eight weeks to process an application.

Read more: Ignoring COVID-19 restrictions will net people $1.3K fine, $5k fine for businesses in Manitoba

Pallister acknowledged Manitoba’s licensing system is out of date.

“We have a pretty archaic, frankly very complex series of rules around licensed establishments for distribution of alcohol in this province. We inherited such a system and we’re addressing that — we’ve simplified it somewhat,” the premier said earlier this week.

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“It remains true that it’s not a simple thing to do to just shut down businesses willy-nilly in the hopes that you beat COVID that way, because that also shuts down the working opportunities and the profit opportunities, frankly, for small businesses around our province.

“We’re trying to do our best to get the messages out about what is safe and what is not… not in an effort to hurt businesses but rather in an effort to help them.”

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