Like restaurateurs across the city and around Ontario, Simmering Kettle owner Shalu Persaud will be enduring another round of lockdowns at least into June.
And as she has done during previous lockdowns, she says she will persevere.
“You’ve got to keep your spirit up no matter what life throws at you,” she tells BarrieToday from her Bryne Drive eatery.
Persaud was front and centre in recent weeks for flouting the lockdown measures and allowing diners to eat in the south-end restaurant. Bowing to public pressure, she reverted to takeout only in mid-April.
That came after visits from Alcohol and Gaming Commision of Ontario (AGCO) inspectors last month, as well as an expired business licence noted by City of Barrie officials (which she says has since been cleared up), and a visit by bylaw enforcement for remaining open.
Persaud, who at the time asserted her rights under common law as the main reason not to follow government regulations, is no stranger to what the ever-changing world of COVID restrictions has thrown at dine-in restaurants.
“The business is not well. I don’t think people understand that there are different types of (food-serving) businesses,” she says. “There’s your McDonald’s and Wendy’s, where mostly it’s takeout and it doesn’t matter. They can still thrive in this pandemic. Any QSR (quick serve restaurant) can thrive in this pandemic.
“Mine is a dine-in restaurant. People come out to make connections,” Persaud adds. “That whole small-town feel, where everyone is connected and we all take care of each other, that’s who I am.”
Because of that, the Simmering Kettle attracts a lot of the seniors and families, she says. And for many of them, it’s a way to get out of the house and socialize.
“At one point, I had started a game night for seniors so they could meet other people their age and have a fun night,” Persaud says. “The most recent little amount of time we were allowed to be open, the tables were full of seniors.
"Everything is shut down, so if they can’t even go out and have a coffee with a friend, what do they have?”
But the tables aren’t full anymore and won’t be until at least after June 2.
But that's no surprise to Persaud.
“Are you holding your breath? I wouldn’t. They took away Easter, they took away Thanksgiving and Christmas and every anniversary," she says.
“My issue is the lockdowns. No one is saying there is not a bad virus out there and, sadly, some people are affected to the point where death is the result,” Persaud says.
She also notes the effect the lockdowns are having on people's mental health and financial well-being.
“I’m just trying to save my business. When do these lockdowns end? Give me a date,” she says. “If lockdowns worked, why are we in (the current) one right now for Simcoe County?”
The way things stand now, sending takeout food out the door doesn’t cut it, she says.
“When it comes to takeout only, I’m down to 30 per cent of my sales. How am I supposed to survive on that?” she asks. “Even when we were in the red zone, where we were only allowed 10 people, I wasn’t making money. But at least I could cover my bills.”
To Persaud’s way of thinking, there's a way to balance health and safety as well as safe commerce.
“We need to respect each other’s perspective. There’s enough things dividing the world right now. We don’t need more things to disagree and fight about,” she says. “We’re all trying to navigate through this crazy time however best we can.
“The rallies are no different,” Persaud says. “No one forces those people to go there. It’s no different than the people who came into my restaurant.”
During an incident last month, a pair of AGCO agents were shouted at by a group of people inside the restaurant, including being told to "get out," that they were "not welcome here," and that they were trespassing.
Now it’s take-out only, of course, and another lockdown.
But everyone should be able to “peacefully co-exist” in the meantime, she says.
“There are enough things dividing us. Live and let live is my motto. Do what you need to do to feel safe. I respect your choice to do that.”