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Montreal bar owners say dark times are ahead even if they're allowed to reopen

Ye Olde Orchard owner John Orr says bars will have to adapt to a new normal once they reopen, but he refuses to give up.
Ye Olde Orchard owner John Orr says bars will have to adapt to a new normal once they reopen, but he refuses to give up.

Montreal businessman Peter Sergakis is painting a grim picture of Montreal’s bar and restaurant business left in lockdown since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Sergakis, owner of 40 bars and restaurants in the Montreal area, predicts that half of all restaurants in the city will be forced to close within a year.

“It’s a disaster,” said Sergakis, who had to layoff 1,500 employees after his resto-bar empire was forced to temporarily shut down in mid-March.

Sergakis recently started a petition to lobby the government to reopen bars and restaurants by June 1.  But he concedes not every restaurant will survive financially given the extent of revenue loss over the past two months.

“Fifty per cent of restaurants are going to close. A lot of them are going to close before we get the permission to reopen. Some are going to try to reopen, but it’s not going to work,” he said.

“It’s going to take two years before the restaurant business is the same as it was before the virus arrived. Two years! A lot of our costumers will not take the chance to come to our restaurants. They will not go out unless they find a cure to COVID-19.”

John Orr, founding partner of the Ye Olde Orchard Pub chain, said he sadly shares Sergakis’s gloomy prediction.

Orr said all the staff at the chain’s eight pubs, more than 150 employees in total, were laid off two months ago. He wonders what the future of the pub business, where patrons eat and drink in cozy settings, will look like once the pandemic subsides.

Orr said some Ye Olde Orchard Pub locations may not reopen for awhile, like the Prince-Arthur St. pub, which relies on university patrons from nearby McGill. With universities switching to mostly on-line classes next fall, he doubts many will head out anywhere for a beer.

While his pub locations in the Monkland Village of N.D.G., Pointe-Claire Village and Kellys Orchard, also in Pointe-Claire, should rebound when eventually reopened, Orr wonders what the short-term future holds for his downtown Mountain St. location, which caters to a Montreal Canadiens hockey crowd.

With no NHL hockey at the Bell Centre, Orr says there are tough times ahead for a lot of downtown bar owners.

He said bar owners were hit with a double-whammy in March when the pandemic forced the government closure of bar and restaurants just before St. Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest and most profitable days of the year, and the Canadiens’ season was put on ice.

And without the usual influx of tourists this summer, Orr said things will get much worse before they get better.

With warmer temperatures finally here, Sergakis points to his empty patio terrasse at Brasserie le Manoir in Pointe-Claire as a sign of tough times.

“If they do allow us to open, we’ll have to follow the six-feet distancing rules and we’ll have to wear masks, but this is not what the customer wants when they go to a restaurant,” Sergakis said.

“The majority of our clients are older people. At the Manoir, a lot of our customers are from the old folks’ homes nearby. They’re not going to come to our place and take a risk, and I understand them. We have to protect our employees, too.”

Sergakis is wary health protocols will kill the vibe of going out for a drink. “You don’t go to a restaurant where the employees wear masks and gloves and everyone stays six-feet apart. You go there with friends to have fun. No one is going to a restaurant unless they find a remedy or vaccine.”

As bad as things look now, Orr said bar owners will need to adopt to a new reality.

“What’s the alternative? Giving up. No way. We’ll get through this and we’ll adapt to a new model. But it’s the uncertainty of it all that’s tough to deal with.”

jmeagher@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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