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‘It wasn’t 100 people, it was 38’: Vancouver restaurant owners speak out on COVID-19 fine

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We're hearing from the owner of a Vancouver restaurant, fined for violating COVID- 19 restrictions on New Year's Eve. As Catherine Urquhart reports, Cold Tea owner Ron Cheng is apologizing, but he also says he wants the public to understand the greater context – Jan 4, 2021

Owners of the Cold Tea Restaurant in Vancouver are speaking out Monday about what they say happened at their restaurant on New Year’s Eve.

They received a fine of $2,300 from the Vancouver police for breaking the provincial gathering and events order. Police later stated 100 people were in attendance.

But the owners of the Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant say that’s not true.

“It wasn’t an event, it was a dinner. It wasn’t 100 people, it was 38 people seated down for dinner. This dinner was planned two or three months in advance before any of these new regulations were in place,” one of the owners, Ron Cheng, told Global News Monday.

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Read more: ‘So reckless’: Vancouver restaurant blasted for 100-person NYE party flouting COVID rules

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He said they gave the guests the opportunity to cancel when the new provincial health orders were issued on Dec. 30 but the guests declined. The restaurant had also already purchased all the food and alcohol and it was not refundable.

“At the end of the day, we were pushed up against the wall and had no option but to continue with this dinner because, quite frankly, we don’t get any government subsidies,” Cheng said.

“We are a new business. We’ve put all our savings into this project and we didn’t know what else to do because this was more of a survival instinct than anything because we were going to be short on rent.”

Click to play video 'Vancouver restaurant accused of holding 100 person NYE party amid COVID restrictions' Vancouver restaurant accused of holding 100 person NYE party amid COVID restrictions
Vancouver restaurant accused of holding 100 person NYE party amid COVID restrictions – Jan 3, 2021

Vancouver police said officers were called to the restaurant around 11 p.m. and found food and alcohol being served to the attendees.

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Cheng said they did serve food and drinks past the allotted time and he takes responsibility for that.

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He said the two officers arrived right when they were clearing most of the tables and the patrons were getting up to leave.

“There was alcohol still left on the table but usually in that sense, we do wait until everybody’s gone and then we kind of do our clean up,” he said.

Cheng added the two officers did not do a headcount and then told everyone they had to leave before issuing the $2,300 ticket.

He said the officers also didn’t take any information from any of the patrons.

Read more: Vancouver police bust 100-person party on New Year’s Eve

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Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association, said Sunday that this was a “reckless” move.

“It puts the entire industry at peril, it actually hurts our credibility with government,” he said.

But Cheng said they are struggling so much to make ends meet and do not qualify for any government assistance.

“We don’t qualify for any of the B.C. grants because we have not been operational for 18 months,” he said.

“I’m not justifying what we did was right, I take responsibility for it. But also, at the same time.. our backs were against the wall as a new business and survival instincts kicked in.”

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The restaurant opened in May 2020 in the former location of Tsui Hang Village Restaurant, which was famous for allegedly selling “cold tea” (beer in a teapot) after last call.

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They made the decision not to open for dine-in patrons on Monday as they are fearful for their staff’s safety.

Since the news about the fine was released, Cheng said comments with “racist and violent undertones” have been directed at them on social media. They have also received emails with similar messages.

Someone also threw eggs at their windows.

“Each owner has invested their life savings into this,” he said. “There’s four of us and we put everything we had into it and we’re still putting everything we have into it.”

Cheng said they are hoping to dispute the ticket.