Petrolia restauranteur faces $5k in fines for opening

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Athena's Diner owner Tom Stoukas confronts inspectors from Lambton Public Health and the Ministry of Labour who were accompanied by the OPP when they arrived at his Petrolia restaurant Jan. 14

Tom Stoukas says he has nothing to lose.The Petrolia restaurant owner will keep opening despite being fined twice under Ontario’s Reopening Act.

Stoukas, who owns Athena’s on Petrolia Line, was visited by a team of inspectors from Lambton Public Health, the Ministry of Labour and an OPP officer Jan. 14 because he was providing sit down dining at a time when the province has shuttered all restaurants for everything but take away and delivery service.

They left without charging him that day.

Since then, Lambton OPP have been back twice. Stoukas tells The Independent he was charged both Friday and Saturday under the Reopening Act. He now faces fines of up to $5,000.

“We’re fighting it – we have legal help to fight it – we don’t think it’s very legitimate. We think this is at all illegitimate. And I think it’s all gonna come crashing down on them, hopefully. But we’re gonna fight it. And you know, we’ll cross the road with the fines when it comes down to it,” he says.

Restaurants have borne the brunt of government shutdowns to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. In early January, the Ford government closed indoor dining for the fourth time in less than two years.

Stoukas had only been open three months when the shutdowns began. He estimates he could have been bringing in $20,000 a month if he would have been open.

“That would be staff getting paid, suppliers getting paid, people like contractors getting paid. It would have been good for the economy. But me, that’s my retirement gone” he says.

Stoukas blames it all on the Ford government’s handling of the pandemic.

“I don’t blame Coronavirus. I blame the government rules,” he says “I’ve come to the conclusion that these guys will never quit. But the only way for this place to be viable for me to continue here is if they leave me alone.”

Despite the possibility of fines, Stoukas continues to be open, welcoming people to sit down for a meal. And he says he’s been busy.

“It’s as if the pandemics not even happening, that’s how busy we are during the lockdown because people want this. The people have spoken.

“I have nothing to lose. When you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. I can’t be scared of these guys, you know? And the only reason I’m on the verge of bankruptcy is because of them.”