‘A grave situation’: Ottawa restaurants scramble to stay afloat in the wake of COVID-19
Jason McLelland opened his tiny restaurant Grunt almost a year ago in Mechanicsville with noble intentions. In addition to running a viable business, McLelland wanted to help lift up Grunt’s hard-scrabble neighbourhood and its residents, offering free cooking classes and even the occasional free meal if such charity was warranted.
But as of Tuesday, Grunt was one of the innumerable small Ottawa-area businesses to be hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with all other Ottawa’s restaurants, Grunt won’t be serving customers in its dining room until further notice. McLelland’s livelihood will take a big blow after Ottawa Public Health on Monday afternoon accepted the recommendation by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health that all restaurants, bars, theatres and entertainment venues should close temporarily to help limit the spread of the virus. The Ontario recommendation brings the province in line with comparable decisions in Quebec and elsewhere in North America and Europe.
“It’s going to be very, very hard,” McLelland said in an interview. He counted himself lucky that his restaurant has a very small staff of just himself, his wife and one other worker. “But I still have bills on different days each week in a calendar month,” he said.
The provincial recommendation does allow restaurants to scale back their operations to prepare food for take-out and delivery purchases, and McLelland says Grunt will go that route.
“But I have to make sure I’m not a part of the spread of this virus,” McLelland said. “People’s safety is all I’m really thinking about.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa sat at 13 as of Tuesday morning. Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, had said on Sunday that hundreds of residents could be infected in the city as she appealed to people to stay home and strictly limit their social gatherings and practise social distancing.