By Scott Zielsdorf
NAIT’s campus bar, The Nest Taphouse and Grill, is keeping its doors shut until the Fall semester of 2021.
Originally set to reopen this semester, the bar and grill initially postponed its relaunch date and is now remaining closed amid COVID-19 safety concerns. The Nest’s general manager, Michelle Dirksen, says the choice wasn’t easy but feels it is the right decision.
“We had that one-on-one talk that you have with yourself…where you ask, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ Can we one hundred per cent ensure the safety of our guests and employees?” said Dirksen.
“We decided it was the right thing to do…to not open at this point.”
The Nest’s management considered pushing the reopening to the coming Winter semester but concluded, along with NAITSA’s executive council, the unlikelihood of the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton drastically improving in the near future.
“We didn’t necessarily believe anything was going to be different in the city of Edmonton come January. So, we made the hard decision at that point to essentially pull the plug, to ensure the safety of everyone that we serve and works for us,” Dirksen said.
The initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Nest to shut down along with the rest of the province back in March. By August the bar was able to bring back its staff, aiming for a September reopening along with other campus food services.
The Nest’s management began reaching out to health services like AHS seeking information on mitigating health risks. Eventually they were able to implement a new safety plan with the help of NAIT’s Relaunch Committee.
Dirksen says the team was confident they could mitigate the health risks associated with the novel coronavirus, a confidence that stemmed from plenty of practice measures.
“We did some serious training, and lots of practicing…I’ve been here for 20 years, and every year we bring our staff back to review the basic things in hospitality, but this year was very different,” said Dirksen.
The annual refresher that all Nest staff undergo was replaced by a new hazard assessment and risk mitigation training program. Staff practiced skills such as serving a table while maintaining a safe distance and checking ID’s without physically handling them.
Dirksen says that by early October the Nest staff felt ready to reopen; the bar was stocked, everyone was trained and feeling prepped and the Nest was ready to open its doors once again.
However, right before the scheduled reopening some staff members began showing concerning symptoms.
“A couple of our employees got sick, thank goodness not with COVID, but with symptoms that were in the [COVID-19] self-assessment. It was a very different world all of a sudden, as we realized we all needed to self-isolate at that point for 10 days,” explained Dirksen.
The test results came back negative, but the sudden illness did prompt the question of whether or not the Nest should be reopening. Although the chances of someone getting COVID-19 at The Nest seemed low, it was not something the staff wanted to feel liable for. Ultimately, the question of reopening concluded with the prolonged closure of NAIT’s beloved watering hole.
With all the uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dirksen is certain of one thing. The Nest will be back come Fall 2021.
“There is hope. We will be back, and hopefully in a different world.”