A predominantly maskless crowd gathered outside the Family Kitchen Restaurant in Leamington Tuesday to support the owner’s decision to remain open for inside dining despite a government-ordered lockdown.
People lined Erie Street South with signs promoting local business and protesting the latest mandated lockdown in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Traffic passing by honked in approval.
Ontario entered a four-week shutdown at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, which entailed a number of restrictions including an end to in-person dining.
Family Kitchen owner Kirsty Leathem opened for sit down service Saturday and Sunday, which she said prompted a visit from officials with the Windsor Essex County Health Unit.
Speaking with the media at the restaurant’s back door Tuesday, Leathem said she’s been fined and she’s received a court summons from the OPP.
A public health official confirmed an inspector visited the restaurant over the weekend “and public health continues to work with our local enforcement partners to ensure there is compliance with provincial shutdown restrictions,” WECHU’s Mike Janisse wrote in an email response.
Despite the fines, Leathem plans to continue offering inside dining.
“I was kind of left with two options,” she said. “Either death by starvation or you take your chance and stand up and death by ticket. Either way, my business was on its way down.”
Leathem said others organized the protest out front via social media.
“She’s a phenomenal woman,” said Tracy Sharron, a regular customer who was waiting for her take out order Tuesday. “I ate here Saturday and I heard about this on Facebook at midnight last night. This is peaceful, it’s to support Family Kitchen. Kirsty gives so much love to the community, we’re giving that love back today.”
Sharron said Leathem donates ham and turkey dinners to the less fortunate every Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas.
“She is an asset,” Sharron said.
The Tex-Mex restaurant’s Facebook page showed a post from the weekend offering Easter dinners to those in need.
Sharron, her husband and a friend were in line on the sidewalk to get inside for sit-down service Tuesday when they opted for take out instead.
Leathem said she follows public health protocols in terms of limiting customers to 50 per cent of the restaurant’s capacity and spacing tables six feet apart.
“If a big box store can be at 50 per cent capacity then so can I,” she said. “These lockdowns have gotten to the point where it’s just not fair. It’s targeting certain businesses, small businesses and it’s just not fair. It’s not fair that the big box store just down the road can be at 50 per cent capacity and we are held back and we can’t.”