Jessica Easson and owner Kris Olson at Wild Flour Cafe Bakery. (File photo)

Clearwater restaurants happy to see indoor service, once again

A return to indoor dining was announced by the province on May 25.

Clearwater restaurants are looking forward to the summer season, following an announcement last week by the provincial government to once again allow indoor dining.

In-person dining had been prohibited in B.C. since early April when Dr. Bonnie Henry implemented new health protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19. Only take-out, delivery and patio dining were allowed until last Tuesday, May 25, when these restrictions were officially lifted.

“It feels like the first step towards returning to normal and it was a really big communal sigh of relief,” said Wild Flour Cafe Bakery owner Kris Olson. “It felt really good.”

Olson said her business hasn’t made many drastic changes to how it operates and she views the restrictions as an opportunity to grow, including increasing their patio seating, grab-and-go items and offering baked good platters and catering. They’ve also extended their hours by opening two extra days per week and have hired additional staff for the summer.

“It’s been a time to step back and get that 60,000-foot view and say, ‘Where are we going?’” said Olson. “We are really small and we’re constantly trying to experiment with systems and ways to do things.”

The Hop n Hog is also taking a new approach. While it had never really focused on takeout, owner Teneille McGill told The Times it became a mainstay when they opened again after being closed for the winter season. The Hop n Hog only had two staff members before opening the patio May 1, although many restaurants have been able to hire back the staff they laid off weeks ago.

“The staff, they’ve been troopers,” McGill said.

At the Wells Gray Inn, the pub was only opened for a few days while they restocked the kitchen and brought their staff back. Their menu was also heavily reduced and they were running with a handful of staff, said Kelly Ruttan, the inn’s bookkeeper. Although the Inn had created a makeshift patio behind the hotel to try to accommodate customers, Ruttan said it wasn’t a huge draw.

“It’s been very tough,” she said. “Our setup is not ideal…from the outside, of the building you can’t see that there is actually any patio area so unless people know that it’s there, they’re not drawn into it.”

For the Painted Turtle, the indoor dining won’t make a huge difference because their patio has always been the main focus, said co-owner Jon Kreke.

“Generally, when people get here, they want to sit on the deck anyways,” he said. “It’s not very often that they want to sit inside, I mean, it has to be pretty inclement weather. We had some people call yesterday (May 25) to ask if they could eat inside and we said, ‘Sure,’ and they ended up sitting outside because they realized we had the heaters going.”

Kreke noted, however, that reincorporating indoor dining into everyday operations is good news for all restaurant owners. He hopes the shift will change the overall mood residents have about dining out.

“We’re very happy that everybody else can open up because I think it’ll put in people’s minds, ‘Hey, now we can go out,’” he said. “There may be lots of people that are assuming that nobody’s open, so it’ll just be a general sort of consciousness that we can go anywhere now again.”