VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Vancouver restaurant owner is continuing to offer indoor dining despite a provincial ban, saying recently-announced restrictions could well be the “final nail in the coffin” for businesses like his.
On Tuesday, B.C. health officials ordered restaurants to halt indoor dining for three weeks. Patio service and takeout are still allowed. When announcing new restrictions, Dr. Bonnie Henry said they were necessary to curb surging case numbers. On March 31, B.C. recorded 1,013 new cases — the highest-ever number in a single day.
Federico Fuoco, who owns Gusto in Olympic Village, will not abide by the provincial health order which he says unfairly targets restaurants.
“The reason is not to be disrespectful and irresponsible is because there’s no blanket policy that covers other businesses like Costco, liquor stores, Walmart. There’s no restrictions there,” he says.
Fuoco says he would be willing to follow the order if there were evidence restaurants were driving transmission and causing the surge in daily case counts, he just isn’t convinced that is the case.
“It’s unfair the goalposts keep moving. There’s no science, there’s no proof that the outbreaks are coming from restaurants, and there was no consultation,” he says.
“Enough is enough. They’re killing small business, it’s a slow death. So all we ask is for proof, and the science to say restaurants are the cause of outbreaks.”
Fuoco would not comment on whether or not his restaurant has been fined or visited by police or bylaw officers
Restaurant risking fines, loss of business licence: Farnworth
Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth says Fuoco could face a fine of $2,300 for defying the order, and his actions could cost him his business licence.
“I think he’s being pretty irresponsible,” he says, adding WorkSafe BC, police, or city bylaw officers will be out this weekend enforcing orders.
“I don’t think they’ll take kindly to someone deliberately thumbing their noses at the provincial health officer’s orders, and being very public about it.”
I’ve spoken with Solicitor General @mikefarnworthbc RE: Gusto restaurant in Vancouver defying public health orders by refusing to stop indoor dining. He doesn’t know if enforcement has happened but notes restaurant risks $2,300 fine or the potential loss of liquor/biz licence.
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) April 2, 2021
Farnworth says he trusts that restrictions are scientifically sound, and evidence-based.
“It’s just mind-boggling that people still don’t get it. The health orders are there for a reason,” he says.
“He’s required to follow the provincial health officer’s orders, and they’re pretty clear — no indoor dining. So I don’t understand why he thinks he’s so special that he doesn’t have to follow the orders when everybody else does.”
Capacity at Gusto has been cut from 40 seats down to 10. In addition to this hit to revenue, Fuoco says restaurants like his have invested thousands of dollars on plexiglass barriers and other preventative measures.
“We’ve done everything they’ve asked for. We’re completely responsible and completely respectful. We’ve done all these protocols we’ve done all these measures, you know, nothing’s good enough for them,” he says.
“It’s insane and it’s criminal, they don’t realize how it affects businesses, how it affects livelihoods. We have to put food on our tables for myself, for my employees.”
The timing of the order — just days before the Easter long weekend — is another source of frustration for Fuoco.
“This time they’ve gone too far. It’s a year later, a year after the first lockdown, and then they do this to us again without any warning whatsoever,” he says.
“Restauranteur friends of mine, they’ve spent thousands on produce, poultry, meats, and everything preparing for this week and Easter weekend. It’s all gone, they’re all suffering. This can kill these businesses. This last order, this could be the final nail in the coffin.”
Fuoco says he’d prefer restrictions to apply to all businesses equally, suggesting it’s unfair that the latest rules target his industry and indoor group fitness studios specifically.
“Whether I agree or disagree with that, at least that’s fair Why are some exempt and others aren’t? That’s not fair. It’s not right,” he says.
“Someone has to stand up and say enough is enough.”
Gusto will be close to observe Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but otherwise, Fuoco plans to be open for business. His other restaurant Federico’s Supper Clubb on Commerical Drive closed in April after being in business for 21 years.
With files from HanaMae Nassar