Matt Cardwell is the owner of The Royal Oak, a Durham region restaurant with two locations that started refusing service to Ontarians in lockdown zones on Monday, December 14.

He told Narcity on a video call that the difficult decision is nothing personal to people outside of the region — it's a case of keeping his staff, community, and family safe.

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Why can't people from outside Durham Region eat at The Royal Oak?

Right now, Toronto, Peel region, and York region are currently in the "grey zone" of COVID-19 restrictions, which means no indoor dining whatsoever.

But regions like Durham allow limited indoor dining, which means people are able to travel to different zones and exploit this restriction loophole.

So restaurant owner Cardwell decided he would ensure the only people eating in his restaurants were people from Durham region, in an attempt to stop people region-skipping and potentially spreading COVID-19 across the province.

How are they checking who's from Durham region?

Restaurants across the province collect phone numbers from customers for contract tracing purchases, so Cardwell said he and his staff first check those numbers for Durham area codes (905 or 289). 

If the phone area code is different, they'll ask the customer where they live. And then, if they're not convinced by the answer, they'll ask for ID and proof of residence as a last resort.

Cardwell said he's had to ask 11 or so people to leave in the three days the policy has been in place. Some have been angry, yelling and promising to take their money elsewhere.

Cardwell knows it's a harsh rule but he said he's doing it to protect his community.

"I know the majority, the supermajority of those in lockdown areas are not breaking the rules," Cardwell told Narcity. "There's no prejudice in this decision. I'm just trying the best I can to keep my four walls as safe as possible."

When can people outside of Durham eat at The Royal Oak again?

Cardwell said that Durham itself is close to no indoor dining anymore, so it could be a while before people from out of town can visit. 

But Cardwell said when they do, he'll be the first to welcome them in.

"When things are better. I will apologize in person and I will gladly buy them a sandwich or a hamburger just to show the sincerity," he said.

He stressed that the decision is nothing personal — he's just doing what he can to keep numbers down.

"For a decade, since 2010...we've done what every business owner does, and tried to make everybody comfortable and welcome and feel special," Cardwell said.

"It's just about controlling what I can control. My staff have parents and grandparents. And if they unknowingly contract COVID in my four walls and take it home, I'd have to live with that. And I'm just not in a position where I'm going to do that."

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