A COVID Conversation with Chris Graves

I know you are likely absolutely exasperated from hearing about the COVID-19 crisis already, and I know this because so am I. That said, I had a chance to talk to Chris Graves, owner of The Kings Head Pub, about how he and his staff are coping.

I was curious to discuss this with him for a few reasons, first being that the pub is a staple of the Exchange District here in Winnipeg and the oldest pub in Manitoba, but also because they were one of the first restaurants to completely shut down amidst the pandemic’s initial incursion to the province, even ahead of the government’s proclamations to do so.

“We shut down, I think it was March 16th,” Graves said, “and that was hard because March 17th is like Christmas to us.”

And, of course, it would be better than Christmas. An Irish pub closing it’s doors the day before St. Patrick’s Day would not be an easy call to make. They were getting so pumped about it that they produced a video series about the party (which doubles as the explanation as to why they don’t serve green beer). Check the whole thing out on their instagram page.

Graves went on to say that some of his staff have potentially compromised immune systems, or other issues, that would make them extremely vulnerable to the virus. “Our decision was not political in any way,” he stated, “we did it for safety.”

A commendable stance in a truly trying time, it turns out to have been an extremely good decision. It was probably a gamble at the time, not really knowing what was to come, but Graves made the decision regardless.

Most other bars, restaurants, and cafes followed Graves’ lead and closed their own doors. Many are remaining open with limited staff and offering take-out and delivery only. The general consensus around the Internet seems to be that these partially-open restaurants are staffed by “heroes” and that their efforts are as commendable as our health professionals and emergency service workers. Drivers for companies like Skip The Dishes, Doordash, and Uber Eats are also receiving praise for their willingness to risk exposure in order to bring food to a population that’s been cut off from itself.

Some other restauranteurs were originally taking the outbreak much less seriously. One, in particular, took to social media proclaiming that they were “fully open” before calling the pandemic “nonsense” in response to one user suggesting they would rather drink their wine at home. The whole post (with comments) has since been removed from that restaurant’s social media, but the screenshots of it are still making their rounds with many users showing their distaste for the cavalier approach taken by management. Clearly they realized a mistake had been made, then they rectified it. That location remains open for pick-up and delivery like so many other pubs, but is otherwise closed to sit-in guests.

“Social media can be a rough place,” Graves laughed while discussing the backlash the aforementioned eatery was facing. When asked if he thought closing his own doors the night before the busiest day of the pub’s year might turn out to be a mistake, Graves said, “It could have been a mistake, but thankfully it turned out not to be.” He then reiterated his commitment that the staff and guest’s safety was paramount.

There is no precedent for this level of global pandemic in the modern era, so we humans were always going to make mistakes. The key is to recognize, amend, and learn from our failures.

Going forward, Graves and his staff are left pouring over finances and planning for the big revival when this whole social isolation situation is complete. “I’m thinking it’s going to be about 3 months in total,” he claimed, then, “but you don’t really know.”

Time will tell, quite literally, what the future holds for all these local businesses. In the meantime, all local spots, The King’s Head Pub included, are bracing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Audio version of the written article, for the visually impaired.

Mark Adam

Mark Adam is the Operations Manager for The WPG Magazine.

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