Grimsby restaurateur forms Niagara hospitality alliance and calls for resignation of Hirji over new COVID restaurant rules

Mark Wood, owner The Forty Pub Mark Wood, owner The Forty Pub in Grimsby has formed a resaturant alliance to fight an order issued by the region's acting medical officer

The owner of Grimsby’s The Forty Public House and a Niagara restaurant alliance he has formed is calling for the repeal of an order targeting Niagara hospitality businesses. Mark Wood is also demanding the resignation of and an apology from Niagara Region’s acting medical officer.

Over the weekend, Wood, who also owns two St. Catharines eateries, formed a restaurant alliance which includes numerous Grimsby, Lincoln and well-known and brand-name regional restaurants, to combat the order.

He formed the organization in response an order, authored by Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region’s top medical officer, enforceable under provincial law, that targets Niagara Region restaurants.

“This narcissist moron has single-handledly and without the backing of councillors and other regional elected officials issued restrictions focusing on the hospitality and food industry,” Wood told The Bench News Monday by phone. 

Dr Hirji
Dr. Mustafa Hirji’s order has the Niagara Region’s restaurant industry up in arms

He said the order is excessive and lacks any basis in science. “The Niagara Region charts where people contract the virus and curiously restaurants are not on there,” he said.

The order requires restaurants and food and drink serving businesses to track patrons by name and phone number in case of a COVID-19 outbreak to make it easier for contact tracers to find them. The records must be held for at least one month.

Hirji’s order further requires that restaurant patrons may only dine with members of the same household to a maximum of four people per table. The order requires that an establishment turn business away if customers will not provide a contact or will not abide by Hirji’s order.

It also specifies requirements for distance between tables, employee screening, and other sanitation and personal protection practices against possible infection from the cornonavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. (Read the entire order here – PDF.)

Failure to comply with the order could result in a fine of up to $5,000 per day for a business.

The Bench News reached out to Dr. Hirji’s communications office for comment on Monday for a reaction. Multiple requests by phone and email went unanswered.

Wood said other businesses in the Niagara Region are not held to the same standard as restaurants. “If you and I go to the LCBO together, the Shopper’s Drug Mart, and then out to eat at (Grimsby’s Judge and Jury), the only place that is required to take our names and contact info is the restaurant,” he said.

Wood said if Hirji’s order is not struck down, it will sound the death knell for many Niagara restaurant businesses and put thousands of people out of work. “We talking bankruptcy, unemployment, poverty,” he said.

For his own operations, Wood said “realistically if I can’t get this order reversed by Friday I have to layoff my half my staff.”

He forecasted that the order could sink hundreds of businesses and result in 100,000 people being laid off, most of who will not be able to return to their jobs, because the businesses won’t survive.

Wood’s outreach to politicians lists at least 20 establishments that include his own three restaurants as well as Beamsville’s Sassafras Coastal Kitchen, Johnny Rocco’s, Mick and Angelo’s, Cracker Jack’s, and several brand-name hotels. He says by Monday morning there were many more aligning with his industry group. Wood’s open letter can be downloaded and read by clicking here.

“In 24 hours I have (also) had more than 764 people who have joined a Facebook page in support of what we are doing,” he said.

“These good people are joining me to have one voice to help correct an injustice. I am inviting them each individually to use this email chain to know their comments will be received by enough elected officials to believe their voice has been heard,” he wrote in an email addressed to 65 regional politicians, that included the open letter.

“We deserve the right to make a living, to feed our families, to support our staff,” Wood continued. “I encourage you all to tell your story here where we can all understand the full effect of this asinine decision.”

Wood said his alliance has retained a lawyer and it will fight to have Hirji’s regional order struck down in court.

Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West, said he has heard from a lot of frustrated local restaurants and diners, who are worried about how they will survive the setback. 

“I know it is a real challenge balancing the public health of the region with the economic needs and realities of our communities, and no easy task for any level of government. I hope to see more data detailing where transmission is happening, I haven’t seen much indicating it is at restaurants,” he said.

Oosterhoff said he is confident Dr. Hirji and his team are “working to bring the best advice they can forward.”

He said he will keep bringing the stories of the constituents and the rest of Niagara to Queen’s Park and work with Premier Doug Ford and his team to ensure there is support for impacted job creators.

“We have to make sure our hard-hit small businesses survive this,” he added.

At least one of the Region’s mayors has gone on the record to speak out about Hirji’s order. Niagara Falls mayor Jim Diodati said the dining directive from Niagara’s Medical Officer of Health is not a law.

He added it is “not enforceable.” He said the order will drive gatherings underground, into people’s homes and into hotel rooms, where there is no contact tracing.