By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A Dandenong restaurant owner is willing to cop a fine of nearly $10,000 in defiance of Covid lockdown rules.
Minid Patel is set to re-open dine-in tables in his Indian vegetarian eatery, Honest Restaurant, from 5pm tonight (26 October) – a week ahead of the scheduled Step 3 easing of restrictions.
He intends to open for up to 50 patrons, with Covid-safe measures such as tables 1.5 metres apart, temperature testing, masks and gloves.
Police have spoken to Mr Patel, confirming he would face an on-the-spot fine of up to $9,913.
Mr Patel acknowledges that police have “their job to do”.
Even a week’s trading won’t pay the fine but Mr Patel said he wanted to make a stand.
“No one has $10,000 in their pocket. I haven’t slept in three nights (since announcing his stand).
“The mental health for myself, my family and my staff in more important than the fine I’m getting.
“We’re sitting on a roller coaster that we don’t know where we’re going.”
Honest Restaurant is Mr Patel’s first business, a “dream come true” after working in the restaurant trade for many years.
The venue opened in 1 January after he, his wife and business partners ploughed in their savings. It drew impressive crowds and employed 20 staff until the ill-timed pandemic struck.
In the past three months, the eatery has been largely closed. Mr Patel survives on JobKeeper and his wife’s wages in child-care. Their mortgage has been frozen for six months.
Under current Step 2 restrictions, takeaways were allowed. But the margins were bare, as low as $280 a week.
That is due to Menulog and Uber Eats surcharges as well as the five-kilometre travel ban and night curfew, he says.
On the day that the travel radius expanded to 25 kilometres, Mr Patel made just $33.
From 1 November, food-and-drink venues are expected to open for up to 20 people inside and 50 outside.
Under the expected Step 3 from next week, business will still be tough. Initially, Mr Patel will be allowed to add three tables outside, on top of 20 patrons inside.
He’s applied but yet to receive money from City of Greater Dandenong and State Government grants totalling up to $7500.
They would barely cover the $30,000 bill for outdoor dining essentials such as umbrellas, partitions and heaters.
Mr Patel says he was disappointed in Premier Daniel Andrews’s 25 October “pause” in winding back restrictions. This was to wait for about 1000 test results related to the northern metro cluster.
So far those tests have returned negative. On 26 October, Victoria had no new cases or deaths – for the first time in nearly five months.
“This is about Daniel Andrews – he doesn’t have faith in the contact tracing system.”
Mr Patel has been buoyed by public support for his stance.
“I just have to do what’s right.
“So many people want the change and want the old Victoria back.
“Melbourne used to be the most liveable city in the world, I was proud to say.
“Now we have the worst and longest lockdown in the world and no one’s responsible for it.”
A DHHS spokesperson told SBS last week that “we understand everyone is making huge sacrifices and this year has been very challenging for the hospitality industry, but this strategy is working, and we are driving cases down”.
“It is important that we stay the course and re-open when it is safe guided by advice from the Chief Health Officer, data as well as interstate and international evidence.
“Currently in metropolitan Melbourne, cafés and restaurants are open for take-away and delivery only but soon under the Third Step they will be able to re-open for seated dining – subject to customer and density requirements and cleaning protocols.”