As restrictions loosen, Montreal restaurants still feel left behind
The Burgundy Lion Pub
MONTREAL -- When Premier Francois Legault first closed restaurants in the spring, Pizzeria Geppetto partner and operator Yann Charbonney felt it would be for longer than the government anticipated. When the province shut down dining rooms again last fall for yet another 28 days, he was incredulous.
"It's a joke. It's stupid... they should've just been courageous and closed for the season (winter)," Charbonney said.
That October, he started making plans.
Charbonney now sells pasta sauces, salad dressings and wine as well as pre-made, frozen Geppetto pizzas from his restaurant in Rosemont. He is also changing the kitchen into a "factory kitchen" to produce more pizzas so he can sell them to grocery stores. He knew that re-invention was necessary. In 2020 his restaurant only made 60 per cent of their average year's gross sales.
"It sucks because I had a great restaurant that basically ran itself."
Charbonney is grateful he and his partners were smart with their restaurant's plans, as well as their finances.
"We were ready for a rainy day."
But that's not the same for every restaurant, which is why the Restaurant Association of Quebec (ARQ) has started a campaign calling on Legault to release a plan and financial aid for restaurants whose survival depends on it. The campaign, "Save our restaurants, Mr. Legault," had 5,000 signatures at the end its first day according to spokesperson Martin Vezina.
"We don't know when or if (restaurants) will open," says Vezina. He adds owners need a plan for the future, and after a year of operating during a pandemic, they need help.
"We need the government to put in place a comprehensive package of financial aid modulated by the loss of income that (owners) had."
Burgundy Lion Pub co-owner Paul Desbaillets says he cannot even begin to add up financial losses since the beginning of the pandemic.
"It's astronomical. The repercussions will be felt for years."
Desbaillets says the provincial government's lack of plan for restaurants is "a running joke."
"The constant open and close dates, the pushbacks... just tell us instead of jerking us around."
He says it's not only owners but cooks, servers, grocers and farmers who are all feeling the financial loss of restaurants being closed for such a lengthy amount of time.
Desbaillets suggests going back to the model the province had in September 2020.
"We had two-metres, half-capacity, we kept a log and increased hand washing," he says.
Pizzeria Geppetto's Charbonney says he doesn't believe things will ever get back to pre-pandemic times. The restaurant now displays their food products in the front and the back is used to store take-out boxes. When summer returns Charbonney says he will install a terrace on Beaubien Ave. just as he does every year but isn't waiting around for Legault to announce his plans.
Charbonney says even if the Quebec government were to re-open restaurants, his pizzeria would stay closed to indoor dining, explaining that the stress of having a few clients and following COVID-19 restrictions is just not worth it. Pizzeria Geppetto is now designed for take-out.
He also says the city is experiencing a huge loss and the province isn't coming up with solutions or a plan. The closure of restaurants affects other parts of Montreal as well, such as the travel industry and the city's cultural identity.
"It's the landmark of Montreal. What do we have? Stade Olympique? People travel here for gastronomical reasons."