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Woodstock restaurant owners welcome return to indoor dining

Restaurant owners in Woodstock say they’re relieved that indoor dining will again be allowed Monday as the province loosens public-health restrictions introduced earlier this month.

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Restaurant owners in Woodstock say they’re relieved that indoor dining will again be allowed Monday as the province loosens public-health restrictions introduced earlier this month.

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“I think we need (to reopen). People need to get out and socialize again and be normal,” said Steve Charron, the owner of Fritzie’s West End restaurant in Woodstock.

After roughly three weeks of being limited to offering takeout, the owner of Woodstock’s Chuckwagon Restaurant is also looking forward to welcoming back patrons.

“We’re just happy that we can open up and that we can see our regular customers that are trying to support us,” said Effie Syrakos, the owner of the family-owned Chuckwagon.

“You talk to people more when they’re sitting down. With ‘to-go,’ you just answer the phone and that’s it, right? They come and get their food and leave,” she said.

The measures – introduced Jan. 3 as soaring COVID-19 case counts driven by the Omicron variant threatened to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care capacity – mirrored the second step of the Ontario’s government’s Roadmap to Reopen.

On Jan. 20, the Ontario government announced that restaurants, along with other restricted indoor services like movie theatres and gyms, would be allowed to resume operations at 50 per cent capacity as of Jan. 31.

“The evidence tells us that the measures we put in place to blunt transmission of Omicron are working. We can be confident that the worst is behind us and that we are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public-health measures,” Premier Doug Ford said in the announcement.

For the restaurant industry – among the hardest hit during the nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic – the sporadic lockdowns have been difficult. With restrictions relaxing once more, owners hope they won’t have to close their doors again.

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“We’re really happy that we are going to open,” Syrakos said. “Hopefully this is the last – no more shutdowns … but we’ll take it one day at a time.”

Even the additional cleaning and other protocols needed under public-health guidelines are welcome, the owners say.

“Oh yeah, we’ll be prepared,” Syrakos said.

The return to indoor dining, Charron said, should help the beleaguered industry begin to recover from the financial impacts of the pandemic.

“People like to get out. It’s the atmosphere experience to go and sit in a restaurant and enjoy your meal. You’ve got comfort inside. You don’t have to go and sit in your vehicle. … We need to save some of these restaurants. I can’t imagine someone having a mortgage or rent or lease and not being open,” Charron said.

Ontario’s reopening plans currently have three main stages, each set 21 days apart. The second step of the reopening is scheduled for Feb. 21 and the third is set for March 14.

“We need to keep our world going here. It’s a good start. We need to do it,” Charron said.

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