Some Portland Restaurants Begin Requiring Vaccines for Indoor Dining

While general customer reaction has been “net positive” as evidenced by a bump in reserved tables, the owner of Little Giant said there has also been significant backlash from the community

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Several Portland, Maine, restaurants have decided to only allow people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to eat in their dining rooms.

The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, Crown Jewel and Little Giant have all recently said that anyone who eats at their establishments indoors must have received the shots.

Ian Malin, the owner of Little Giant, said a recent spike in nationwide COVID-19 cases from the delta variant prompted him to return to requiring masks at his restaurant and requiring vaccines for everyone both indoors and out, unless a person is ineligible for the vaccine, in which case they can eat outside.

“We haven’t seen a decline in reservations, we’ve seen an uptick,” he said, explaining that the change is simply to protect both restaurant staff and area families, including his own -- he has young children,

“It’s something I think about every day,” he said.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 children continues to rise according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

“I have young kids that are not eligible. It terrifies me, they don’t have the choice or freedom to make their own path through this and it’s my job to protect them,” Malin added.

While general customer reaction has been “net positive” as evidenced by a bump in reserved tables, Malin said there has also been significant backlash from the community, to the point he disabled the ability for commenters to post on parts of the restaurant’s Instagram page.

There have been threatening messages directed at him and restaurant staff online, over the phone and even in person, he said.

“The staff are getting unfairly targeted,” Malin explained.

“A lot of people have been writing false reviews to drag down our ratings, people wished we’d go out of business and people put bets on when we’ll go out of business,” he added.

Tracy Chang, the owner of Pagu Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., says she has concerns about physical safety as some customers are enraged by her mask mandate. A clinical psychologist says that mask rage is not often just about the mask -- the emotion underneath the anger for a lot of people is fear. But Chang says no amount of yelling is going to change her mask policy.

Malin’s vaccine policy is an honor system, by which people will have to simply tell staff whether or not they’ve been vaccinated -- Malin said he has no way to check if vaccine cards issued by the CDC are real or fake.

Alex Wight, owner of Crown Jewel, said his restaurant will also be using an honor system for now.

“Overall, the reaction has been positive. I deliberately turned comments off on our Instagram to prevent any unpleasant commentary. There were still those who chose to use direct messaging to voice their opinions, however,” Wright said in an email.

His announcement was made three days earlier than the mandate issued Tuesday by New York City officials that people must be vaccinated to eat indoors or go to an indoor gym.

Asked if that move was validating to him, Malin replied that he is “not looking for validation in this, I’m just looking to avoid another COVID shutdown for our restaurant,” and that believed his move was in the best interest of community health.

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