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'Consumer confidence' is the next big hurdle for local restaurants

'There is a possibility that customers aren’t coming in because passports aren’t in place,' says general manager of Theo’s Eatery
Brendan Van Schepen 3-3-22
125 Breakfast Club cook, Brendan Van Schepen, was busy preparing breakfast orders Thursday morning. The elimination of the vaccine passport system has improved business at the downtown eatery, he said.

Local restaurants are drawing closer to business as usual since the province eliminated the vaccine passport system on Tuesday.

Brendan Van Schepen, a cook at 125 Breakfast Club, says business has already picked up mightily.

“Last week we were having days where we only had two or three customers,” he said. “Yesterday we filled 15 tables. This is going to help us during the week and it helps our revenue.”

Van Schepen is looking forward to the lifting of mask restrictions, which he hopes comes later this month.

“It will make it easier for us to work,” he said. “The passport system made more work for us, and we would get the odd customer who would try to get by without it.”

The downtown restaurant’s staff feel comfortable with the easing of restrictions, Van Schepen says.

“I don’t think anybody is worried anymore,” he said. “We are still cautious, we still wipe everything down and sanitize, but I think everyone is feeling more confident now.”  

Fewer restrictions should translate into more tourists returning to downtown Orillia this summer, Van Schepen hopes.

“We expect to thrive a bit more,” he said. “We just hope everyone stays safe still and avoids another wave.”

A family business that opened in 2018, 125 Breakfast Club is hoping to realize its full potential this year.

“The first year as a new business is always tough, and then we went through two years of COVID,” Van Schepen said. “This is our first year being established and open for business when we should be.”

At Theo’s Eatery, general manager Teddy Tselikis, says business is certainly not back to normal.

“We are still a bit down sales-wise,” he said. “There is a possibility that customers aren’t coming in because passports aren’t in place.”  

Tselikis believes that things will return to normal soon at the popular Memorial Avenue restaurant. The eatery is used to slower winter months and busy spring and summer months, he noted.

Tselikis says consumer confidence will need to be rebuilt before some customers feel comfortable returning. Tselikis also says the vaccine passport being lifted takes some weight from the shoulders of his staff.

“It’s less things for them to do without the procedures of scanning people’s passports and checking identification,” he said. “It’s made things a lot smoother.”

For the most part, staff at Theo’s Eatery are ready to get back to more normalcy, Tselikis said.

“I can’t speak for all of them, but we are all still taking precautions with things like masks and sanitization,” he said. “Returning to normal after almost two years is something that I think is welcomed by everybody for the most part.”

St. Louis Bar and Grill owner, Brad Watters, says things are feeling a little more normal this week.

“We are very positive about the response we’ve had so far this week,” he said. “Business has absolutely improved.”

Watters says his staff is feeling comfortable with having un-vaccinated customers in the building. The next benchmark for the industry will be the lifting of the mask mandate.

“I think we will continue to move our way back to normal in the next couple of months,” he said. “The big thing now is consumer confidence, which should naturally come back as things get lifted.”

The west Orillia restaurant is launching its first campaign since the pandemic to try and promote the business. This will be the first time the restaurant operates as normal with little to no restrictions since it opened in late 2019.

“We are looking forward to it,” Watters said. “We are excited about seeing what we can do in the next little while.”