John Vassilopoulos spent many nights at the start of the pandemic just looking at his empty dining room in the usually bustling Bold Knight restaurant.
“Just seeing an empty restaurant is really weird,” said Vassilopoulos, owner of The Bold Knight.
The Nanaimo restaurant was started by his dad 43 years ago and has survived downturns in the 1980s, and mill closures, but nothing like this.
The restaurant became one of the thousands on the Island that closed to stop the spread of the virus. But on Monday B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gave him and the 190,000 people employed in BC’s restaurant industry hope that reopening in the not so distant future could be possible.
“But I need them to be innovative,” said Henry.
“To start thinking okay how can we be innovative? How do we do this in a way that still protects our staff and the people who are coming into our business?”
Vassilopoulos said it will likely mean a lot fewer tables in restaurants, paper menus, hand sanitizers on walls and reservations to reduce crowds.
“You have to look at everything,” said Vassilopoulos.
“What you’re going to leave on the table, what you can’t leave on the table. Yeah, you have to really start adjusting.”
But those are compromises restaurants are keen to make to re-open and simply survive.
“We’re going into the second month where rent is due where some of them have had no customers or certainly not enough customers to pay staff and for the premise to stay open,” said Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO Kim Smythe.
Nanaimo’s Jalapenos Mexican Restaurant has seen a 70 per cent drop in business since the pandemic began, despite offering takeout.
“We were packed (before the pandemic),” said Jalapeno’s Francisco Camarena.
“And we had lines waiting for people to order their food to go and now it’s completely empty.”
Loyal customers like Anthony Cavalier are trying to frequent their favourite businesses all they can to keep them going.
“We’re all struggling a little,” said the Nanaimo resident.
Bold Knight will keep offering take out and delivery while they can while they wait to reopen.