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Peggy Vogler sitting outside Aphrodite’s Organic Pie Shop in Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver café and bakery owners say they’ve been in vaccine-card limbo

Exemption for coffee shops leads some businesses to question where they fit

By Courtney Jacobsen , in City , on November 30, 2021

It’s been nearly three months since the B.C. government announced that proof of vaccination would be required to enter specific commercial spaces. Now, it’s become a new normal.

But some businesses are still confused about how the rules apply to them. Specifically, cafés and bakeries.

Owners say they’re in an ambiguous space because, while coffee shops are exempt from requiring proof of vaccination, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a coffee shop in the eyes of the government.

Owners of these cafés and bakeries believe they fall somewhere in between full-service restaurants and coffee shops, some offering customers the option to eat inside but without table service.

In the face of this confusion, they have relied on one another for advice.

Peggy Vogler has experienced this discrepancy directly, as the owner of two distinct businesses located across the street from one another: Aphrodite’s Organic Café and Aphrodite’s Organic Pie shop. One is a full-service restaurant, the other is more of a coffee shop.

“There were no specific coffee-shop protocols. Like, there was fast food, there was full-service restaurants, but nothing for counter service,” said Vogler.

Peggy Vogler taking a pie from the fridge at the Aphrodite’s Organic Pie Shop.

As new rules were coming into play for her restaurant, she referred to a guide from the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association to figure out next steps. The problem was, she said, it didn’t cover what to do at the pie shop.

“It was hard to be confident that you were passing out the right information,” Vogler said. So she turned to other businesses for advice. “I was always checking to see what they were doing. Everybody seemed to be doing the same thing.”

The CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association says it’s been a challenge to get clear information from the provincial government on shifting pandemic rules.

“We give guidance to anybody that’s in the food industry,” said Ian Tostenson.

The association has been a main point of contact for many in the industry looking for answers.

Tostenson said the guide the association distributed to members did include some information for cafés and bakeries. However, he admits the information is now out of date.

When asked if there are plans to create a guide specifically for counter-service businesses like the pie shop, he said, “I think it’s a great suggestion.”

A big challenge for the association, he said, has been a lack of communication from the government.

“We were still, two weeks ago, looking at a recommendation by the Ministry of Health as to what the definition of [a counter service restaurant] would look like.”

The Thunderbird sent multiple requests for comment to the B.C. government and did not receive a response in time for publishing.

‘Nobody really had the answers’

Jenell Parsons, owner of The Pie Hole in Kitsilano, said it’s been a huge undertaking to navigate the rules about vaccinations and how they might apply to her business. Her pie shop offers sit-down service and provides cutlery, so she was unsure if she needed to check vaccine cards.

Jenell Parsons taking a cookie from a display tray at The Pie Hole in Kitsilano

When she had questions, she picked up the phone and started calling different government agencies.

Parsons has described the process of trying to get an answer as needlessly difficult. She spoke with multiple branches of the government, each sending her off to someone else, eventually leading to a loop where no one could give her the answers she was looking for.

“It was frustrating,” she recalled. “Nobody really had the answers and, at one point, I even had a guy say, ‘Look, as you’re asking, I’m Googling.’”

She’s still not sure what the rules are for her business.

“I still don’t know if we require it,” said Parsons.

Parsons has chosen to err on the side of caution, rather than being on the receiving end of a hefty fine for breaking the rules.

“You don’t want to just ask for forgiveness.”