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Jennie's Diner defies restrictions and welcomes patrons for in-person dining

“At least give us some hope, right now, there’s not a lot of hope.”

BONNYVILLE – It was a different kind of protest that included vehicles filling up the parking lot and patrons lining up, while waiting to be seated at Jennie’s Diner and Bakery on Wednesday. The restaurant opened its doors to dine-in services over lunch, in protest of provincial health orders in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bonnyville restaurant was among facilities across the Bonnyville and Cold Lake area that defied the restrictions on Jan. 27. Current restrictions only allow for restaurants to be open for take-out and delivery.   

“We can open up safely,” stressed Jennie Hamel, the owner of Jennie’s Diner. “We can follow all the guidelines that Alberta Health put in place, just like before."

Hamel confirmed she wasn’t given a fine for opening her dine-in area and no RCMP or peace officers stopped by on Wednesday.

From the moment Jennie’s started serving customers at 11:30 a.m. up until 1:30 p.m., the kitchen and wait staff were kept busy delivering plates of food to tables. The protocols that were in place before the provincial government forced restaurants to close down were being followed, with masks only removed when food was being eaten.

For some, like Bonnyville resident Cody Saint, it offered an opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy some local food.

“I think it’s time that the community and everybody learn that it’s time to settle down and get things back to normal. It’s hurting a lot of people and businesses and it’s not right,” Saint stated, adding, he felt safe while dining at Jennie’s.   

Although the community has supported Jennie’s diner throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamel knows it won’t continue forever.  

“There’s only so much money left. Without people working, there’s less money. I know there are other businesses opened, but we’re feeling the economic effect. Luxury items go first.”

Hamel hopes her protest shows the provincial government that restaurants can open safely.

“You can’t close us with uncertainty. How am I supposed to pay my bills? How am I supposed to pay my employees? You can't give us uncertainty. If you’re going to close us for another two weeks, say another two weeks. At least give us some hope, right now, there’s not a lot of hope.”   

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Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle