VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Vancouver restaurant has been ordered to close after the owner kept the doors open for indoor dining in defiance of B.C.’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Federico Fuoco, who owns Gusto in Olympic Village, told NEWS 1130 Friday he would not obey the provincial health order, saying the ban on indoor dining would be “the final nail in the coffin” for businesses like his.
Hours later, Vancouver Coastal Health had ordered the restaurant to close, posting a notice on the door of the darkened cafe.
Looks like Gusto in Olympic Village has been slapped with a closure order by #Vancouver Coastal Health. Steady stream of onlookers walking by reading the notice, looking at the dark restaurant. https://t.co/xDmIvKfz3v #COVID19BC @NEWS1130 @CityNewsVAN pic.twitter.com/dJlTKv0WxI
— Chad Harris (@ChadHarrisTV) April 3, 2021
On Tuesday, B.C. health officials ordered restaurants to halt indoor dining for three weeks. Patio service and takeout are still allowed. When announcing new restrictions, Dr. Bonnie Henry said they were necessary to curb surging case numbers. On March 31, B.C. recorded 1,013 new cases — the highest-ever number in a single day.
Fuoco explained why he was unwilling to abide by the order.
“The reason is not to be disrespectful and irresponsible is because there’s no blanket policy that covers other businesses like Costco, liquor stores, Walmart. There’s no restrictions there,” he says.
Fuoco said he would be willing to follow the order if there was evidence restaurants were driving transmission and causing the surge in daily case counts, but he isn’t convinced that is the case.
“It’s unfair the goalposts keep moving. There’s no science, there’s no proof that the outbreaks are coming from restaurants, and there was no consultation,” he said.
“Enough is enough. They’re killing small business, it’s a slow death. So all we ask is for proof, and the science to say restaurants are the cause of outbreaks.”
Fuoco would not comment on whether or not his restaurant had been fined or visited by police or bylaw officers
Restaurant risking fines, loss of business licence: Farnworth
Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said Fuoco was facing a fine of $2,300 for defying the order, and that his actions could cost him his business licence.
“I think he’s being pretty irresponsible,” he said, adding WorkSafe BC, police, or city bylaw officers will be out this weekend enforcing orders.
“I don’t think they’ll take kindly to someone deliberately thumbing their noses at the provincial health officer’s orders, and being very public about it.”
I've spoken with Solicitor General @mikefarnworthbc RE: Gusto restaurant in Vancouver defying public health orders by refusing to stop indoor dining. He doesn't know if enforcement has happened but notes restaurant risks $2,300 fine or the potential loss of liquor/biz licence.
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) April 2, 2021
Farnworth says he trusts that restrictions are scientifically sound, and evidence-based.
“It’s just mind-boggling that people still don’t get it. The health orders are there for a reason,” he said.
“He’s required to follow the provincial health officer’s orders, and they’re pretty clear — no indoor dining. So I don’t understand why he thinks he’s so special that he doesn’t have to follow the orders when everybody else does.”
Capacity at Gusto has been cut from 40 seats down to 10. In addition to this hit to revenue, Fuoco said restaurants like his have invested thousands of dollars on plexiglass barriers and other preventative measures.
“We’ve done everything they’ve asked for. We’re completely responsible and completely respectful. We’ve done all these protocols we’ve done all these measures, you know, nothing’s good enough for them,” he saiid.
“It’s insane and it’s criminal, they don’t realize how it affects businesses, how it affects livelihoods. We have to put food on our tables for myself, for my employees.”
The timing of the order — just days before the Easter long weekend — is another source of frustration.
“This time they’ve gone too far. It’s a year later, a year after the first lockdown, and then they do this to us again without any warning whatsoever,” he said.
“Restauranteur friends of mine, they’ve spent thousands on produce, poultry, meats, and everything preparing for this week and Easter weekend. It’s all gone, they’re all suffering. This can kill these businesses. This last order, this could be the final nail in the coffin.”
Fuoco says he’d prefer restrictions to apply to all businesses equally, suggesting it’s unfair that the latest rules target his industry and indoor group fitness studios specifically.
“Whether I agree or disagree with that, at least that’s fair Why are some exempt and others aren’t? That’s not fair. It’s not right,” he said.
“Someone has to stand up and say enough is enough.”
Fuoco’s other restaurant, Federico’s Supper Club on Commerical Drive, closed in April after being in business for 21 years.
With files from HanaMae Nassar