New restaurant in Mississauga wants to open for dine-in despite COVID-19 restrictions

 

Although Mississauga has been in lockdown for several weeks and will remain shut down until at least Jan. 23, some small business owners say they might have to defy lockdown orders—and risk being shuttered or fined by the city—in order to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The owners of Mad Ox Smokehouse and Grill, located at the corner of Britannia Road and Erin Mills Parkway, told insauga.com that due to COVID-related delays and difficulty obtaining government support, they might choose to ignore public health rules. 

Mad Ox, which initially planned to open in March, did not get its business license until the end of September and opened on Oct 31. However, Sal Hussain, one of the owners, says that from April to September, they paid rent, utilities, and loan payments without any government subsidy and without income. 

When asked why they did not receive financial aid from the federal or provincial governments, Hussain said that they were deemed ineligible for the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), as Mad Ox did not meet the criteria for any of the above support programs.

Hussain said that as they are a new business, they do not have prior sales to report, but he argued that that should not negate the fact that they are still paying rent.

“They would have to see a drop in sales from prior years and only those businesses would qualify,” Hussain said.

“We feel that they set these conditions to cover as many businesses as possible but there are still plenty of small businesses like us who fall through the cracks and those applications need to be handled with exceptions and on a separate case to case basis. Being a new or small business, you still face the costs.”

Hussain said the restaurant had been planned and designed pre-COVID and their establishment was focused on dining in.

“Sixty-five per cent of our overall space is dedicated towards dine-in and now it is not being utilized at all, and we are still paying rent on it,” he said.

Hussain says he understands that cases have been going up and the second wave has been quite severe, and strongly feels that if they are required to abide by COVID-19 restrictions, they should have access to the subsidies to offset the losses from restrictions. The owners of Mad Ox say they are therefore considering opening for dine-in.

“We would enforce six feet distance between tables and masks would be mandatory for both staff and patrons and we would still log our customers and follow the guidelines that have been set by Health Canada,” says Hussain.

Should Max Ox open, it will violate both provincial and municipal rules and could incur substantial fines. According to Catherine Monast, senior advisor at the City of Mississauga, the city has issued over 100 fines and charges for COVID-19-related violations to businesses since April 2020.  

Monast says the city will escalate enforcement and anyone intentionally violating the rules will face a Part 3 charge. If the charge is laid by issuing a summons, a failure to comply with an emergency order charge could result in fines of up to $100,000. 

At a Jan. 6 press conference, Sam Rogers, the city’s Director of Enforcement, said that most businesses have been in compliance with provincial and municipal rules amid the second province-wide lockdown. 

That said, Rogers told reporters that the city’s enforcement division has shifted from educating businesses and individuals who violate laws to fining those who knowingly flout the rules. 

“Other than a few bad actors…I’m pleased to share that overall businesses have continued to show excellent levels of compliance. We’ve conducted thousands of inspections and the compliance rate has remained consistently high at 99 per cent,” Rogers told reporters. 

Under provincial lockdown orders, restaurants are not allowed to offer dine-in service (indoor or outdoor) and residents are not allowed to attend or host indoor gatherings with anyone outside of their immediate household. People who live alone and single parents are permitted to have exclusive, close contact with one other household. 

The owners say that they understand the rules, but are worried about keeping afloat. 

Muhammad Abbas Hussain, co-owner and partner of Mad Ox, says that his house is currently being held as collateral by the bank against his business and he needs to open for dine-in to survive.

The restaurant owners say have invested $620,000 to open up their establishment.

“UberEats takes 30 per cent of the business, so if customers use them, they take 30 per cent and we can’t get any help from the government because our case is still under review and as a result, some businesses may not survive until the end of the year,” Abbas Hussain said.

On Dec. 18, the Ontario government responded to concerns regarding delivery services and announced that it was capping food delivery fees to give restaurants a reprieve. As of now, food delivery companies are required to limit the rates they charge to 20 per cent for each transaction -- with no more than 15 per cent for commission for food delivery services. 

Indoor dining has been prohibited at Toronto and Peel restaurants since October 2020. 

“If we could take back all of our investments and not open our business, we would’ve definitely done so.”

The owners say they have been in touch with Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) who has been trying to help them get the support they need and is aware of their case.

The CFIB advocates for small businesses with politicians ensuring they have a chance to affect the laws and policies which affect their business.

“Small businesses like us will end up taking what may seem like radical steps in order to protect our livelihood,” Hussain said.

Currently, there is no set time for the establishment to open for dine-in and the restaurant is open for curbside pick-up.

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