Behind the scenes of a Winnipeg restaurant after 1 year of coronavirus restrictions

After a year of ups-and-downs, one Winnipeg restaurant owner says he has no plans to close his doors as Manitoba’s coronavirus restrictions extend into a second year.

Scot McTaggart never imagined he’d be celebrating the 25th anniversary of his restaurant, Fusion Grill, in a mask with a number of rules to follow.

He, like so many other business owners, had never faced a challenge like the one the pandemic has presented.

“When COVID hit and we were forced to shut down, that scared the hell out of me,” McTaggart said.

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Sales dropped instantly and in the months that followed, he put in more hours than ever before.

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“In the springtime, I mean, I was rewriting the business plan not every week, but, I mean, every second day,” he said.

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Just weeks after Manitoba announced its first confirmed COVID-19 case last spring, the province ordered restaurants to close for in-person dining.

With takeout and delivery still allowed, McTaggart decided to become a delivery driver himself.

Not only was it a decision that would save him money, but it gave him full control of the customers’ experience.

“It says Scot McTaggart, Fusion Grill on my jacket and they go, ‘Oh my God the owner really is delivering the food,’” he said. “I’m there, ‘You bet, hope you enjoy it, let us know if there’s anything wrong.’”

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By the time restaurants were allowed to reopen for the first time last spring, McTaggart estimates he was working up to 90 hours a week.

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While his wife was caring for her mother and he was worried about bringing the virus into the restaurant, the two decided it would be best to live apart.

McTaggart moved into the second floor of the restaurant and went as many as eight weeks without seeing his wife.

He still lives at the restaurant, although he is more likely to visit home these days.

“We’re mitigating risk for her, we’re mitigating risk for the business by living separately,” he explained.

He also invested in a Reme Halo air purifier to help keep the place safe.

The company that makes the device claims on its website that it kills up to 99 per cent of bacteria, mold and viruses.

“It’s working 24/7,” he said.

Currently, restaurants are allowed to be open at 50 per cent capacity for in-person dining, although guests are only allowed to sit with members of their household.

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McTaggart, who is also a waiter, said he’s focusing on offering a quality experience for the few people he can serve.

Although he is open, he doesn’t want people to think he, and all other restaurants are now in a good position.

“We need people to continue to support us in takeout and delivery,” he said.

Despite the challenges, McTaggart said he is committed to surviving, no matter what the next 12 months have in store.

“When I decide to retire and my days are done in the industry that I love so much, that’s going to be my decision,” he said.

“That’s my decision to make and COVID is no exception.”

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