Corrin Lotz, general manager of the Dirty Northern Public House, mans the hand sanitizing station outside the restaurant in Whitehorse on May 29. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Many continue to opt for take-out as dining rooms reopen

City considers options for more patio space

As some local restaurants begin welcoming guests for dine-in services, a few restaurant owners are asking the City of Whitehorse to allow sidewalks and parking lots to be used for additional seating.

At Whitehorse city council’s June 1 meeting, submissions from Dirty Northern Public House/Miner’s Daughter owner Katja Schmidt and Wayfarer Oyster House owner Eddie Rideout were read into the record (in-person delegations to council are not currently happening due to COVID-19) asking about the possibility.

While dine-in restaurants can once again operate, there are a number of public health guidelines that must be met.

Among them are plans that must be approved and seating capacity at 50 per cent of the maximum prior to the pandemic. There’s also a requirement for seating to be arranged for physical distancing of six feet, which means that in some cases maximum seating is at less than 50 per cent.

In each of their submissions, Schmidt and Rideout noted a number of municipalities across the country are making changes to allow restaurants more space for outdoor seating while physically distancing.

Among them are pop-up patios, street closures and sidewalk space being made available for outdoor food services.

Schmidt pointed out that with a lack of tourists this year, there’s not likely to be the high demand on parking that there normally is. She suggested a portion of Main Street could be closed off to accommodate more restaurant seating that meets distancing guidelines.

Troy King, owner of Wood Street Ramen, poses for a photo in the restaurant’s small dining area in Whitehorse on June 2. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Rideout, meanwhile, asked that the Wayfarer be able to use city-owned space next to the restaurant that is currently used for parking.

Each encouraged the city to look at possible solutions that would assist restaurants working to recover in the midst of COVID-19.

Rideout also asked that any associated fees be waived.

While there are provisions that allow for sidewalk use by restaurants (and there are some cases where seating is provided on sidewalks) or outside restaurants, Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, said these are considered on a case-by-case basis.

In the case of moving seating into parking areas on the street, the city would have to go through the Motor Vehicles Act with the Yukon government.

A number of city councillors voiced their support for city staff considering possibilities for outside restaurant seating that could be provided for quickly.

As Coun. Steve Roddick pointed out the summer season is short so a solution should be found quickly.

“What are the barriers moving forward,” he asked, highlighting the issues around the Motor Vehicles Act as well as ensuring accessibility.

“I guess I’m just looking for are there solutions here,” he said. “Are there ways we can make this work on a pilot project basis.”

Coun. Laura Cabott said she’s heard from a number of residents interested in making such changes.

“There is a real interest in this,” she said.

Other council members agreed they wanted city staff to look at the possibilities and report back on what might be done for the 2020 summer season.

City manager Linda Rapp said the city will look at all restaurant services as it considers the matter, including those that may not be able to expand patio space onto a sidewalk.

“I think we would want to take a look at it as a whole and see how we could recommend some options potentially to address it,” she said.

In the meantime, local restaurants are working to adapt to a new way of doing business.

Many have been offering take-out and delivery since COVID-19 closed many services in the territory.

The Wood Street Ramen deck is under construction for customers to eat on because the inside dining area is too small to adhere to the six foot rule in Whitehorse on June 2. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

While some reopened for dine-in services May 29, a quick search of Facebook shows others have set dates later in June to reopen their dining rooms.

Troy King at Wood Street Ramen said June 1 the restaurant may not reopen its dining room, but is rebuilding the patio as a place for people to sit outside.

“We will not be providing table service,” he stated in a June 1 email. “We will police it and clean it to ensure the safety of us and our guests.”

When restaurants were initially closed with the exception of take-out and delivery, King said the ramen house was closed for two weeks while work was done to “revamp everything.”

“We weren’t going down without a fight,” he said, adding work was done to figure out how to turn what was then eat-in only options to takeout options.

No full-time staff was laid off as the restaurant worked to adapt to the major changes they were faced with.

That meant also building an online ordering option, a process that was difficult in the beginning but is now fairly easy to with customers ordering and paying online before they come in and pick up their order that’s set on a table waiting when they come in. They can then grab it and head out the side door.

As King pointed out the changes that were made to accommodate take out orders took away much of seating space.

“The way we have everything set up, you come in the front door and leave threw the side door,” he stated. “That ‘path’ through the shop takes away 90 per cent of the seating.

“Along with the new patio we are adding a extra work space to increase the menu offering we currently have; we also carry Smoke and Sow southern style barbecue and Yukon Chocolate Factory in our online store. I’m trying to help out some other small shops in town. Also give the customers lots of choices.”

While the ramen shop has learned to operate in the post-COVID era with takeout offerings, King said staff really do miss their guests and are hoping things can go back to normal in the next year or so.

Boston Pizza reopened its dining room on the weekend with manager Gerry Brandt noting the restaurant was probably at 35 to 40 per cent capacity during the peak periods.

Customers seemed pleased to be dining-in and staff were able to follow the new protocols in place.

“It was very positive,” he said.

Meanwhile, John Laffra, Northern Vision Development’s food and beverage manager, said many were pleased to dine in again at Earls.

A number of local restaurants are outlining plans on social media to reopen their dining rooms or patios later in June.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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