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Local eatery blames overreaction to Covid-19 for sudden drop in business

In this Following Up feature we return to Chao Bistro and hear from owner Billy Nguyen about how a previously busy and popular restaurant has lost 90 per cent of its business in the past few weeks

The open sign outside the front doors of Chao Bistro on Elmira Road was still flashing Friday but inside the tables were empty and if public panic over the coronavirus doesn't subside the light in that open sign may soon go out, says its owner. 

“We have lost 90 per cent of our business in the past two months,” said chef and co-owner of Chao Bistro, Billy Nguyen. “We are one of the top-rated Vietnamese restaurants in Guelph. Our customers come from all over the city but they haven’t been coming lately.”

The restaurant is typically very busy during lunch with people taking advantage of lunch specials and discounts for students, seniors and city workers but it was empty Friday and has been like that for weeks. 

“We were doing really good then suddenly it dropped off,” said Nguyen. “We can’t survive long at this rate.”

It is hurting his business as well as his suppliers. 

“I haven’t bought liquor since November,” said Nguyen. “We try to use fresh local ingredients in our dishes but if we don’t have customers we can’t sell it and it goes bad.”

He said people are overreacting to the threat of the Covid-19 and it is hurting all restaurants, especially Asian restaurants.

“People need to educate themselves,” said Nguyen.  “There hasn’t been one reported death in Canada from the Covid-19. More people die from the flu and other illnesses every day but it doesn’t stop people from going out to restaurants. I am confused.”

Nguyen said there is no other reason for the sudden and dramatic drop in his business.

“None of our staff has been out of the country since we opened in May of 2018,” said Nguyen. “We’ve never had problems with the health inspectors or complaints from customers. We always get good reviews online.”

He said it is very disheartening to sit in an empty restaurant all day and watch your dreams slowly melt away. 

“We stay open because customers expect us to be open during business hours but it’s hard,” he said. “We stay open even when the weather is bad because maybe someone will come.”