Open air and open for business

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From left, Scott Rivait, Charlotte Martin, Mike’s Place owner Mike Buckler and Nancy and Dan Marentette toast the reopening of outdoor patios Friday.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nancy and Dan Marentette had a hard time waiting for their favourite restaurant to open.

So much so that they brought their own picnic table and ate take-out in the back of their truck in the Mike’s Place parking lot two weeks ago.

Like the rest of the province, the Tilbury-area couple is more than tired of Ontario’s restrictions on face-to-face dining.

“It was time to get out of the house,” Nancy joked, with respect to their makeshift pickup truck feast.

“We’re so glad they’re open,” said Dan, laughing as he raised a cold one.

Owner Mike Buckler, who has been running the business for 43 years, said allowing in-person outdoor dining was way overdue.

Nevertheless, he said he’s looking forward to the season.

“It’s going to be a great summer,” Buckler added. “But oh my God, it’s late. We’ve been waiting to open for a long time.”

Mike’s Place has always done a good take-out business, he said, thanks to a loyal following. The take out portion equalled about 25 per cent of regular pre-pandemic sales.

The restaurant had another positive. Buckler was able to keep his 26 employees on the payroll thanks to government wage subsidies.

Buckler said it’s too early to tell how the reopening will play out, adding new COVID-19 safety rules are part of the territory.

“I’m not sure if this is our new normal,” he said. “It’s hard to say if people don’t want to get vaccinated. I hope people kick in and get vaccinated.”

June 11 marked day one of the first step of the Roadmap to Reopen the province three stage plan. The steps are directly tied to the number of Ontarians who take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Each stage is at least 21 days long. If all goes well and vaccination rates continue their upward trajectory, the rules will be relaxed even further.

But in order to move into Step Two, 70 per cent of adults in Ontario must be vaccinated with one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – we are at 74.35 per cent – and 20 per cent must have had their second shot – we are at just under 13 per cent.

As the result of the pandemic, the province has relaxed the rules around outdoor patios.

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent followed suit by introducing a temporary patio bylaw and loosening the regulations on permanent patios.

According to Paul Lacina, director of building development for Chatham-Kent, no formal application for temporary patios or outdoor patios on private property at this time is currently required.

Municipal officials will attend each property on a case-by-case basis and will investigate if a complaint is received.

A provision has also been made to allow 15 per cent of a restaurant’s required parking space to be used as a permanent patio, or to allow for a live music venue.

To date, three permanent patios have been built in Chatham-Kent. Two of those are on municipal property and one is on private property.

Lacina said he does not have an exact number, but he estimates there are “well over” 50 temporary patios set up on private property throughout the municipality.

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