It’s been a long time coming, but restaurants in the Halifax Regional Municipality that temporarily closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic are beginning to reopen them.
Evangelos Panopalis, owner of Athens Restaurant in Halifax, is firing up the grills again and preparing to reopen his restaurant to offer takeout and delivery options some time this week, if not by early next week.
Coming on seven weeks since the restaurant has been closed, Panopalis said it’s been “really, really hard and stressful on everybody,” as he had to lay off all his staff and expenses tied to the business continued to accrue when no cash flow was coming in.
Federal government assistance has helped, but Panopalis said he doesn’t know if it’s enough for businesses, seeing how he himself is in “a mountain of debt.”
And though Athens Restaurant has been around for nearly 40 years, he said reopening feels almost like restarting the business from day one – with a smaller menu, reduced hours and fewer staff.
“I have no idea really how it’s going to play out either. I open and I don’t know how busy we’ll be. Will I have to shutter the doors again? Will I have brought back too much staff, not enough staff initially?” he said.
“The future is a complete unknown.”
Panopalis acknowledged that the restaurant will face “a real challenge” in the coming weeks and months, but said he’s “excited” to get the business up and running again.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that things can start rolling a little bit,” he said.
“We’re all in limbo. I don’t know what day one and day two or three going forward will look like.”
Talay Thai Dartmouth is slated to reopen this week to offer takeout and eventually delivery options. The restaurant has been closed since March 20, according to co-owner Andy Dao.
With Mother’s Day approaching, the COVID-19 curve “sliding down” and “things getting better” in Nova Scotia, Dao said the timing felt right for the business to reopen.
In reopening, he said he wants “to get the economy going” and help out his staff members who were laid off and have been relying on employment insurance, while ensuring customers and staff stay safe and healthy.
“It’s been very hard because we have the restaurant expenses as well, for example like fixed costs and rent and (utilities),” he said.
“I think the (COVID-19) situation is slowing down a little bit, so I hope things get going for everyone, to put everyone to work. Every contribution helps, because right now the economy is in crisis.”
Jignesh Patel, owner of Hamachi Kita Sushi & Asian Flare, is planning to reopen his restaurant’s doors, which have been closed since March 15, on Thursday.
In April alone, Patel said he spent between $6,000 and $7,000 on the restaurant when it was garnering no revenue and estimates he lost about $5,000 in inventory that went bad in the last month and a half, including fish, avocados and cucumbers.
“It was really scary,” he said.
Once reopened, the restaurant will offer both takeout and delivery options, but will focus mainly on delivery, with employees wearing masks, gloves and carrying sanitizer with them while delivering meals for free within a 60-kilometre radius of the restaurant in Halifax, according to Patel.
He said he’s feeling “so positive” about starting up the business again, adding he wishes “we’ll get our customers back and we’ll get our business (back to how) it was before.”
While the future remains uncertain, Patel said he hopes people continue to “support the locals,” helping small, local businesses like his own survive the pandemic.
Noushin Ziafati is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.