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Desperate restaurant association pleads for liquid lifeline from province

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Fabio Haiko-Pena, the operations manager for Little Pizza Heaven, supports the idea that the MB restaurant association is calling on the province to let restaurants deliver booze.</p><p>200327 - Friday, March 27, 2020.</p><p>See Malak Abas story</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Fabio Haiko-Pena, the operations manager for Little Pizza Heaven, supports the idea that the MB restaurant association is calling on the province to let restaurants deliver booze.

200327 - Friday, March 27, 2020.

See Malak Abas story

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Manitoba’s devastated restaurant industry is calling for quick action to allow liquor sales with delivery and takeout, as other provinces have done.

The Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association put out a statement Thursday saying the province had a responsibility to allow alcohol delivery and takeout similar to British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan to Manitoba as "a small ray of hope to a struggling restaurant industry and its employees" as the coronavirus pandemic results in closures and layoffs.

MRFA executive director Shaun Jeffrey told the Free Press that a conversation with Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton had made it apparent Manitoba would not be following suit but was "working on it," despite having introduced legislation to allow liquor to be sold with licensed takeout and delivery establishments in 2019.

"It’s a little bit troubling, considering we have had tabled legislation in this province for that actual service, so it has some support, because it wouldn’t have passed the first reading if it didn’t have support," he said.

Yesterday, Ontario also announced it would amend regulations to allow bars and restaurants to provide takeout and delivery alcohol, effective immediately.

Jeffrey said the MRFA was "mind-boggled" and "very disappointed" by the slow response from the province, adding Wharton didn’t provide him with a timeline.

"Their feedback to us is that it remains a priority, and that they want it to happen, but there’s a lot of factors... the way that the Liquor Control Act has been written that is not allowing them to be able to proceed with the emergency measure," he said.

Wharton did not respond to a Free Press request for comment Friday.

Passing this legislation could help local restaurants recoup their losses, Little Pizza Heaven operations manager Fabio Haiko-Pena said.

"I think it could be a very good idea to be helping the restaurants — not just us, but in general. There’s so many restaurants where their main income is based on dine-in service," he said.

He said the loss of alcohol has had a noticeable impact on Little Pizza Heaven’s revenue.

"It could help us to increase sales a little bit, to deliver some beers in cans together with pizzas," he said.

Little Bones Wings managing partner Jeff Klause said he has had to lay off staff and take additional safety precautions to keep takeout and delivery options running.

But he said while offering takeout and delivery alcohol might marginally increase sales, he wants the province to look beyond legislation and provide more direct support to restaurants.

"Opening up booze sales for restaurants, I think it’s a great idea, it should be done, but the argument should not be that this is going to save restaurants," he said. "This is not going to save restaurants."

Klause said he would prefer the provincial government to provide sanitization services to remaining establishments.

"We have a huge amount of people being laid off all over the place in the industry, so the ones that are actually staying open, we could use the help from the government; not more regulation, not more things that we should be doing," he said.

"Actual human beings who are helping. Otherwise, just keep out of it."

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: malakabas_

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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