Mixed feedback at Tobago restaurants

Customers explore their options at Kitchen Creole on Monday.  - David Reid
Customers explore their options at Kitchen Creole on Monday. - David Reid

There were mixed feelings on Monday in Tobago as restaurants and street vendors were once again allowed to sell food after being shut for more than two months under covid19 health regulations.

The prime minister, on July 10, announced the reopening of the sector for drive-through, curbside pickup and takeaway services, In-house dining is still prohibited.

Members of the public were anxiously awaiting the green light to buy their favourite fast food once again. But some business owners said it was not as busy on the first day as one would have hoped.

CEO of JNR Investments Ltd Jeffrey Azar said his restaurants, Roosters and Kitchen Creole, opened on Monday.

“It should have been opened a long time ago – takeout won’t hurt anyone," he said.

"They’ve put too much of people out of jobs for two months. The takeout really doesn’t hurt anyone. The dine-in I can understand, because you have to take off your mask and eat there, but if you’re taking your food away, I don’t see why this is a problem. It’s putting the nation under some tremendous pressure, and we have been taking it, I just hope it doesn’t close again.”

Owner of Seahorse Inn located in Black Rock, Nicholas Hardwicke, said he kept his restaurant closed.

“We would open when the circumstances are right. We’re not a conventional fast-food restaurant. With the beaches closed, with limited air- and seabridge access to Tobago, with the state of emergency still in place and the curfew, it really doesn’t make any sense for us to open at this time.”

He said a lot of businesses have expressed the same view.

“The big problem in Tobago is scale. We’re talking about an island of 55,000 people spread out all over the place. There isn’t enough population concentrated in any one area to make it viable to open under such restrictive circumstances.

"Opening for takeaway only allows you to utilise a third of your staff. What about your front-of-house and the restaurant staff as well? It doesn’t solve our problem. In fact, it adds to it because if we were to open, it increases our overhead expenditure without any sort of appreciative revenue streams to compensate. It really doesn’t make sense.”

Owner of Country Boyz Kitchen Devon Smith said he was eager to reopen his business.

“I am elated. What is done is done, so now is time to start back to make some extra cash. It has been a struggle for the past two months, but we’ve been waiting and now (the restrictions are) lifted, so I really am elated.”

Workers at Chef’s and BBQ’s Crown Point branch were still preparing to open when Newsday visited. They were cleaning, checking inventories, placing orders for stocks and testing all equipment to make sure they were working properly.

Slow sales were reported by many of the food outlets which reopened and there were no long lines at the KFC and Royal Castle outlets in Scarborough.

One staff member said, “It is either people got accustomed to cooking at home and experimenting in their own kitchen, or people just don’t have money – either or.”

One doubles vendor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there had been few customers.

“Sales real slow – it’s really not good today, to be honest. It's definitely slower than expected.”

Another doubles vendor was comforted by the small turnout, and expressed optimism that sales would build up further in the coming days.

“It not all that bad – people are trickling in. Prior to the pandemic, we would have been sold out by now.

"But it would pick up, because people are eager to come out and buy doubles. So the more reopening we have, and the more people come out to work, it would pick up, definitely.”

Owner and president of the Crown Point Partnership Association Garvin Monzano could not be reached for comment, as calls to his cellphone went unanswered.


"Mixed feedback at Tobago restaurants"

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