By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
BAHAMIAN restaurant owners are urging Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to extend privileges evenly, not selectively during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Last week the Office of the Prime Minister gave the Myers Group permission to let its restaurants, including Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts and Anthony’s Caribbean Grill, remain open until 9pm, later than the time businesses are generally mandated to close at 8pm.
More than a week later, the Office of the Attorney General has not yet extended that privilege to all restaurants, despite an expectation that such a change will be made soon.
But Dwight Hart, owner of YOLO Grill and Hookah Bar, a restaurant in Exuma, said he was surprised to know that businesses could get such privileges simply by asking the prime minister.
“Here’s the problem,” he said this week, “once you do that for one, it shouldn’t be a question whether anyone else could write and ask and get it, it should be automatically given because obviously everyone will want the same thing, everyone wants to be open later.
“I believe some of these bigger businesses have been told that they can operate until 9 but the rest of us aren’t important enough to be told that information. As a business person trying to stay operational, most restaurants make the majority of their revenue after working hours because that is when patrons come to our business. We get very little day traffic because people are at work. We depend on evening traffic to survive and the fact that we have to close at 7pm or 8pm means it’s really a losing venture to try and stay open. You are paying salaries and taking home 60 percent less than normal because you’re not open during hours when patrons would usually patronise the business.”
Although his restaurant is attached to the Exuma Palms Hotel, Mr Hart said police officers have been confused when applying Dr Minnis’ rules to his business.
“I still don’t know if we are clear, particularly when there seems to be some discrepancy among the police,” he said. “When the initial order came out in March, it specifically said that hotels or restaurants in hotels could operate until 9 if you had guests in house. We had a visit one time from police officers before 8pm saying we could not be opened even if we had guests, we could only do room service to the guests. When the island opened back to normal, I took normal to mean that I could operate right up to curfew, which was 9. We then had another visit from police saying we are not supposed to be opened until 9, we had to shut down at 7. Considering we were a restaurant in the hotel, we still thought that was weird. Sandals on Exuma is operating their restaurant until 9pm. I asked why is Sandals open until 9 and we have to close at 8. There just hasn’t been clear communication either from the prime minister’s office or the police.”
Fifty-five-year-old Romell Knowles, owner of Grove Holiday, a restaurant on Market Street south, said he plans to write to the prime minister on Monday requesting permission to stay open until 9pm.
“The law is the law and I think it should be applied evenly,” he said. “Even during the pandemic, you had businesses selling alcohol in the west with no harassment from police whatsoever. So if Mr Myers gets to stay open until 9pm, everyone should get to stay open until 9pm.”
Both Mr Hart and Mr Knowles eagerly await the day Dr Minnis lifts the 10pm to 5am curfew. Mr Hart said he generates 60 percent of his revenue between 9pm and 11pm; Mr Knowles said he generates 70 percent of his revenue between 8pm and 11pm.
“Just listening to what’s happening in Grand Bahama after the borders reopened and to hear that some people have been slipping in without the right test, that exposes us as business people to another lockdown and if there is another prolonged lockdown I’ll be out of business,” Mr Knowles said.