Proof of vax pulled from many menus, pandemic weariness left over

At Beaurivage Bistro in Winnipeg, things are looking sunny in more ways than one during the Tuesday lunch rush.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/03/2022 (283 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At Beaurivage Bistro in Winnipeg, things are looking sunny in more ways than one during the Tuesday lunch rush.

Business owner George Chamaa has spent decades in the restaurant industry, serving Lebanese cuisine in the St. Boniface neighbourhood and now on Corydon Avenue over the years. He chats good-naturedly with diners — here to pick up shawarma and salad — as the March sun shines through the bistro’s windows.

Chamaa mentions what he calls “post-pandemic prices” coming soon — deals to signify what he hopes is the beginning of the end of what’s been a painful two years for the industry.

George Chamaa, owner of Beaurivage Bistro, mentions what he calls “post-pandemic prices” coming soon — deals to signify what he hopes is the beginning of the end of what’s been a painful two years for the industry. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

He warmly welcomed the news staff no longer have to ask for proof of vaccination against COVID-19 from in-person diners.

“When you interrogate a customer, you’re putting a burden on the customer. You aggravate people,” Chamaa told the Free Press, ringing up a bill. “I am not the police.”

The province has called the decision to end the requirement Tuesday for most businesses — which had been in place since September — a “new normal.” All pandemic public health restrictions are expected to be lifted by mid-March.

“When you interrogate a customer, you’re putting a burden on the customer. You aggravate people… I am not the police.” – George Chamaa, business owner

Chamaa was happy to follow the province’s lead, but said he’s not positive it’ll make an immediate difference in restaurant volume. “(People) are not going to go crazy, they will still be cautious.”

He plans, however, to gladly usher in the end of the public mask mandate when it comes. Chamaa said he hopes, by summer, things will feel the way they did in 2019.

“I think we’re going see a major change. I’m preparing for that major change… By the time May, June comes in, we’re going to be full-blast,” he said. “Because we need time to forget. Us, as humans, we forget very quick.”

Not every Manitoba business with dine-in options was so quick to drop proof of vaccination rules Tuesday.

Among those to share on social media they’d still be asking customers for such info were Modern Electric Lunch, Pizzerio Gusto, Hargrave Street Market, Merchant Kitchen and Never Better Coffee.

The brightly-coloured but unassuming Never Better sits nestled in the Riley Grae boutique on Corydon. Jordan Cayer said he’d describe his coffee shop (which opened two months ago) as a “relaxed, unpretentious community space.”

Daniel Cox, a professional photographer and conservationist from Montana, said businesses have the right to decide what regulations they want. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

That community concern drove him to decide staff would continue to ask those sitting in to provide proof of vaccination, even after the province dropped the mandate. He called it a “no-brainer.”

“At the heart of the decision, it’s less about politics for us — although we’re not afraid to be political, because we stand by our beliefs pretty strongly. But the general thing is just (that) we want the maximum amount of people to feel safe in here,” Cayer said.

“I think it’s important for people to know the kind of people that run the businesses that they’re taking part in, and we’re not afraid to put ourselves out there in that regard. But it’s also not fully about that, it’s a little bit of both.”

The pandemic’s not over, Cayer said. He’ll be reviewing the rules in his own shop week by week.

He hasn’t yet faced any push-back for the decision, adding he’d likely look to how people in his life are taking the new relaxed rules to judge next moves rather than unofficial direction from the province.

“I’ve traditionally been a little bit of a Twitter doom-scroller when it comes to pandemic stats and all that, and I have been paying pretty close attention to the stats and hospitalizations,” Cayer said. “But I don’t find it reliable anymore, because I don’t think that the testing that they’re doing is giving really good data for that.”

“I’ve traditionally been a little bit of a Twitter doom-scroller when it comes to pandemic stats and all that, and I have been paying pretty close attention to the stats and hospitalizations.” – Jordan Cayer

At Garwood Grill on Pembina Highway, the new rules spark discourse across a table of people waiting for their lunch.

The Greek eatery has dropped the requirement diners show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, something the owner — who asked not to be named — said came after fears of negative retaliation from customers.

“We do all feel that it’s too early to drop the mandate for (proof of) vaccines… We’re doing it just because we knew if we kept it, we would get a lot of backlash,” she said.

Daniel Cox, a photographer by trade, was visiting family for lunch before heading to Churchill on Tuesday afternoon. He supports the decision Garwood Grill and many other restaurants have made, and said businesses have the right to “the option to say: I want my place either COVID-free or I don’t.’”

Jordan Cayer, owner of Never Better Coffee, said the pandemic’s not over. He’ll be reviewing the rules in his own shop week by week. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I don’t see any reason that an establishment shouldn’t be able to put up their own regulations on the people that they want in there, and whether they’re vaccinated,” Cox told the Free Press while waiting for his food order.

On the other side of the table, a woman (who asked not to be named and declined to say whether she was vaccinated) said she hasn’t gone out much in the two years since the pandemic began. The decision by the province to drop the proof of vaccine requirement influenced her decision Tuesday.

“I came here and I said, this is about as normal as I have felt in 2 1/2 years,” she said.

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS “I think it’s important for people to know the kind of people that run the businesses that they’re taking part in, and we’re not afraid to put ourselves out there in that regard. But it’s also not fully about that, it’s a little bit of both,” said Jordan Cayer, owner of Never Better Coffee.
Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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