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How Montreal's restaurants and bars are responding to the city's red zone status

October 1st marks the first day of a 28-day shutdown for restaurants' dining rooms and the closure of bars, brasseries, taverns and casinos.

By JP Karwacki
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October 1st marks the first day of a new red zone lockdown for Montreal and other regions following a steep increase in COVID-19 infections, and as a result, the Quebec government announced that restaurants and bars would be bearing the greatest weight in the province's new public health measures.

For the next 28 days, restaurants will have to close their dining spaces and only offer takeout and delivery, while bars, brasseries, taverns and casinos would have to completely close; the only slight exception being microbreweries and distilleries who are "closed only for their services for consumption of food or beverages on the premises".

Since the plan for Montreal entry into red zone status was established on September 28, restaurant and bar owners have been taking to social media and releasing press releases to announce their disappointments and frustrations. They're not wrong: In a press conference on September 29, Montreal's mayor Valerie Plante confirmed that there have been no reported outbreaks at the Montreal bars or restaurants; instead, they've been taking place at offices, healthcare workplaces, schools, and harder-to-control transmission points like team sports activities and parties at private indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Kevin Demers, owner of The Coldroom, El Pequeño, Parliament

"The Montreal hospitality industry can take a toll on your mental health, especially during this time and another shutdown of bars and restaurants," the owner wrote on Facebook. "For those that don’t work in this field: It takes an absolute animal to work in our industry (especially Montreal), and I've loved every single minute of it. I also love and respect every single person I’ve worked with (past or present) or seen work, because I know the sacrifices we make for what we love."

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Sergio Da Silva, owner of Turbo Haüs

"28 days? More like see you in the New Year."

Mathieu Ménard, owner of Le Minéral & Le Blind Pig

In an interview with Caribou, owner Mathieu Ménard said "I had the feeling that everything I had built for 12 years was going to collapse like a game of cards. We had to show great resilience" when the first shutdown occurred in March. "We are the scapegoats for this crisis. If the government were consistent, it would close everything: gyms, hair salons, shops, schools. But since he doesn't quite know what to do, it is the restaurants and bars that suffer first."

Brooke Walsh, owner of Restaurant 212

"It’s pretty devastating," the restaurant owner told the Gazette after opening on September 14. "We were starting to get momentum. We just hired and trained a staff. They’ve only worked for less than two weeks, and now they’re locked out. All these people have to pay rent, myself included, and I haven’t had an income since last March." Now the restaurant plans to pivot to a casse-croûte with burgers and poutine to try and stay afloat.

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Nazim Tadjini, owner of La Voûte

Since nightclubs have proven to be an exceptionally difficult business model, many fo them have switched over to a cabaret setting with food service that didn't exist before. However, the investments required for these shifts have been made dead in the water, "What makes Montreal's identity is neither the beauty of the city, nor the care taken for its infrastructure," the owner told Caribou. "It is its people, as well as its gastronomic and cultural scenes that set it apart. They deserve more love at this time."

Simone Chevalot, owner of Buvette Chez Simone

"Bars will close and restaurants, a large part of them, may see some bankruptcies," the bar wrote on Facebook. "This industry that's lost everything, that reinvested in itself, that has reinvented itself and that has adapted to this unprecedented health crisis with admirable courage... because of some morons, honest people will lose their jobs, business and income; we're talking about real people with kids, homes and dreams. Follow the health rules... (or) you will kill hospitality and then you will cry because everything is too expensive."

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Victor Soto, owner of Tacos Victor

"Serious question!!! Is a restaurant the same as una taqueria????" the owner wrote on Facebook jokingly.

Laurent Ruffier-Lanche, general manager of Time Out Market Montréal

"This has been quite the year for the restaurant business and Montréal as a whole. I am inspired by the city’s continued resilience. During this 28 day period Time Out Market Montréal will remain open for takeout, in-person and via our Time Out Market App, and delivery through DoorDash. Our incredible chefs will continue to add flavor and life throughout this red zone."

Sindie Goineau, co-owner of Chez Victoire

"I fully understand that measures are needed to prevent the spread of the virus, I am the first to wear my mask and be careful in my movements / contacts but, why close restaurant dining rooms again?" the owner wrote in an open letter on Tastet. "In short, for those who still have a job, I STRONGLY invite you to order takeout in your neighborhood restaurants in the next month (not in big chains like St-Hubert, but in independent restaurants)."

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The Restaurant Association of Quebec (ARQ) issued a press release on September 28th, noting that the restaurant and bar industry is one of the "most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first seven months of 2020, the total sales of restaurants in Quebec have fallen by more than 30%. For those with table service, we are talking about a drop in sales of nearly 40% so far."

In the same statement, the ARQ listed several measures that could aid the current state of affairs: The suspension of commercial rents and the prohibition of evicting tenants for not paying rent; a remittance on taxes that were due on September 30; the cancellation or reimbursement of property taxes paid during the months when restaurants and bars had to remain closed; and a compensation program for the loss of perishable stock.

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