The Yalcin brothers had only opened their west Toronto bistro for about six months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Now, with sales down between 70 and 85 per cent from before COVID-19, co-owners Ali and Tolga Yalcin said they’ve been trying to adjust financially, while also working tirelessly to install safety measures and keep the number of patrons low to allow for physical distancing.
“We quit trying to plan months ahead — it’s days and weeks now,” said Ali Yalcin.
“Since April, we’ve had to rethink this whole idea of what a restaurant is, and how we can operate safely.”
But as of Wednesday, protocols around restaurants and bars across Toronto are changing once again.
City council voted unanimously to approve a number of additional measures aimed at curbing a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
Under these new rules, restaurants and bars will now have to reduce the number of patrons from 100 to 75, reduce the number of people at a table from 10 to six, collect contact information from each patron at a table, and lower background music to the level of conversation.
The proposal was introduced earlier this week by the city’s Medical Officer of Health,Dr. Eileen de Villa, and quickly drew support from Mayor John Tory and Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy.
“We know that if you reduce the total number of people [in a restaurant], you reduce the likelihood of potential slips in personal protective measures and therefore reduce the likelihood of the transmission of the virus,” de Villa said during the council meeting Wednesday.
Since Day 1 we said we would be guided by the best available evidence and experts. Today, City Council expressed our unanimous support for our Medical Officer of Health to pursue additional measures she deems necessary in coming days to fight this surge and help keep us safe.
Additionally, on Sept. 25, the Ontario government also introduced a new set of rules, including moving the last call at bars and restaurants, including nightclubs, to 11 p.m.
Owners say they’re constantly adjusting
With the changing rules and regulations, the Yalcin brothers said they are constantly trying to adjust.
“We’ve gone through so many transitions that I feel like we’re just always trying to get ahead of the game,” said co-owner Tolga Yalcin.
Now they’re bracing for another hit.
“All these new rules, they’re welcome, but at the same time, we’re thinking of the business side,” said Ali Yalcin.
Tory calls for year-round outdoor dining
But there’s a glimmer of hope for business owners like the Yalcins.
Knowing the newly-approved measures will affect businesses — especially those already struggling — Tory called for enhanced support for restaurants, a motion that was also passed unanimously by council.
“I realize that these public health measures … will have a negative impact on businesses that were struggling before, trying to keep the lights on and trying to keep people employed,” Tory told reporters Wednesday.
Despite the impact, Tory said it’s crucial to put health and safety protocols first.
“A healthy economy requires healthy people,” Tory said.
Under the umbrella of Toronto’s CaféTO program, the mayor says city staff will work with businesses to introduce and support year-round outdoor dining.
Other recommendations will require city council to:
- Support the province in any actions it takes with the insurance industry to support small and medium-sized business by preventing astronomical increases in their insurance policies and premiums.
- Advise the Ontario government to extend the regulation that allows those with liquor licences to continue selling beer, wine and spirits as part of a food order for takeout or delivery.
- Advise the Ontario government to continue its pause on commercial evictions.
- Push for supports from the federal government, which were promised during last week’s throne speech and would provide an economic boost to industries hardest-hit by COVID-19.
Toronto COVID-19 bylaws extended
The city’s COVID-19 bylaws will also be extended until its first meeting in 2021.
That includes the bylaws mandating physical distancing in public spaces, mandatory masks, public health measures for bars and restaurants and temporary COVID-19 amendments that cover apartment buildings. All of the these bylaws were set to expire on Thursday.
The new rules come after Toronto Public Health identified COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks at several restaurants and bars in the downtown core. City officials also shuttered a handful of restaurants along King Street West for failing to protect the public and their staff.
De Villa said it’s now up to everyone to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“This is not the time to panic. It is the time to act,” she said at a city hall news briefing on Monday.
Ontario could see 1,000 new cases per day
Meanwhile, Ontario health authorities forecasted Wednesday that the province could see 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day by mid-October.
Despite predictions that Ontario’s trajectory will mimic that of Melbourne, Australia, which is currently under strict lockdown measures, health officials say they will continue to monitor the effectiveness of measures introduced across Ontario earlier this month.
Asked if the province is taking a pause on introducing enhanced measures, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said public health officials are “continuing to assess the situation,” since much of the province isn’t seeing dramatically increasing numbers of cases.
“If you do things too aggressively province-wide … there’s a whole area outside of Toronto that is saying, ‘Why is this impacting us?'”
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