The owner of an Ottawa business forced to close for two weeks because of the protests says convoy demonstrators are still having a “devastating” impact on her employees, finances, emotional health – and she says there’s no end in sight.
Sarah Chown, the managing partner of Metropolitain Brasserie Restaurant on Sussex Drive and Rideau Street – in the heart of downtown Ottawa – closed for 13 days to avoid any interaction with protesters who have hunkered down in the vicinity.
Honking, loud music, the smell of gasoline, public intoxication – Chown says that’s all happening daily near her restaurant.
It’s scared off patrons, and employees are hinting at wanting to work elsewhere, Chown told the Rob Snow Show on Saturday, February 12.
“I need these people away from my intersection,” she said. “It is hindering our ability to operate and my staff to earn a living. It's devastating the impact this is having on us as well as, obviously, the hundreds of other businesses that are operating in the downtown core that is simply a ghost town. It cannot continue."
“Angry, I'm sad. I have run the gambit of emotions. There's been tears, there's been screaming, ranting, all of those things. And it's just like, you continue to beat your head against a brick wall.”
Chown fully closed her restaurant to walk-ins and takeout on Saturday, January 29 – the very first weekend of the large-scale protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the nation’s capital. She says it was done with the employees’ safety in mind.
“Our staff weren't comfortable coming down and it was just a complete nightmare,” said Chown, who is also the regional chair of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association. “They didn't feel safe coming down. They were seeing the harassment that other places were recording and it just simply wasn't something I wanted to subject them to, or they were comfortable doing.”
The restaurant reopened on Friday, February 11 to no walk-ins and a few dozen reservations, though nothing compared to previous Valentine’s Day weekends – usually a busy time for restaurant owners in the downtown area.
"Ottawa's hottest nightclub"
Chown describes her street as a full-blown party, despite large police presence in the area.
“Our corner is now sort of been dubbed Ottawa’s hottest nightclub,” she said. “The horns aren't the issue now. It's the rattling of the glass doors from the bass that the DJ is putting out on that corner and the diesel fumes as well.
“The continual illegal activity that's taking place near metres from our front door is just mind-blowing to me. It’s crazy. Open flames, barbecuing, drinking in public, incessant noise, defecating on my property. Like what is acceptable and what isn't?”
What’s already been a challenging time operating a restaurant with COVID-19 restrictions and closures over the past few years has only gotten more difficult and costly, says Chown.
There’s managing fixed expenses like rent, utilities and insurance that still need to be paid if the business closes; navigating potential food wastage; and employees wanting to leave for restaurants that can guarantee more hours, more patrons, and safer conditions.
While open for now, Chown says she is prepared to close again if there’s trouble.
“We're going to just take it hour by hour. And at the first sign of any sort of harassment – I'm the one on the door, there’s no hostess – we'll shut it down and we won't hesitate to do so. It's just simply not worth it.”