Lavelle's Bistro

Lavelle's Bistro is the second business in Fairbanks to require employees and customers to be vaccinated.

Lavelle’s Bistro will soon require staff and customers be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Beginning next month, guests must provide proof of vaccination and staff must have received at least one dose of the vaccine by then, the company announced Thursday.

Lavelle’s Bistro employees must be at least partially vaccinated by Nov. 1 and need to have received the second shot by Dec. 1 at the latest. Customers must show their vaccine card to enter the Bistro as of Nov. 1. The only exception to the vaccine requirement is if someone can prove that they have had Covid. According to Robin Zimmerman, general manager of Lavelle’s Bistro, there are possible medical or religious exemptions for staff, but not for customers.

Zimmerman explained that Lavelle’s Bistro owners Kathy Lavelle and Frank Eagle made the decision to require vaccines after traveling abroad and seeing the success of vaccine mandates in restaurants elsewhere. Additionally, Zimmerman said, Lavelle and Eagle were feeling “increasingly uneasy” about the spike in Covid cases and deaths and the general threat of the virus.

“The situation is getting a little dire,” Zimemrman said.

Additionally, Lavelle’s Bistro chose to make the decision because some of their employees are also health care workers who have talked about the urgent situation in the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital’s ICU. The owners decided to wait until the vaccine received FDA approval before making the shot mandatory.

Zimmerman said that Lavelle’s Bistro is aware that, given their number of clientele they host each night and their close proximity, they could potentially be a superspreader environment. They therefore feel a responsibility to protect not only their customers and staff, but also the Fairbanks community as a whole.

“You can either be part of the solution or part of the problem,” said Zimmerman, and the management of Lavelle’s Bistro chose the former. They “wanted to do what they could to make a safer environment,” he added.

Along these lines, Zimmerman said that there is a “contingency” of people in Fairbanks who have not been going out to eat in restaurants because they do not feel safe doing so. Therefore, Lavelle’s Bistro wanted to provide a place where these people can feel safe. Zimmerman said that, as far as he knows, there is only one other Fairbanks establishment asking for proof of vaccination.

It is too early to know what the response to the decision will be. Zimmerman said that in the very early stages the reaction has been hostile, which “we expected to some degree.” However, what he referred to as “the million dollar question” is how many people have not been going to restaurants because they do not feel it is safe. The hope is that these people will go to Lavelle’s Bistro.

Zimmerman drew a parallel to Fairbanks businesses prior to the smoking ban. Before smoking inside buildings was prohibited, the decision of whether to allow customers to smoke inside was up to the owner. An owner’s decision to not allow smoking lost them some customers, but also gained them some.

This was the experience of Fairbanks Distilling Company, the first business in Fairbanks to implement a vaccine mandate. Fairbanks Distilling Company implemented a vaccine mandate when they first reopened on May 1, said owner Patrick Leavy. They dropped the requirement for a portion of the summer when the Covid alert level dropped to intermediate. But after it rose to high alert again, Fairbanks Distilling reimplemented the mandate.

The reaction to Fairbanks Distilling’s decision was mixed, according to Levy. He explained that some of the unvaccinated people they had to turn away left “horrible” reviews. However, the mandate also brought in an influx of people who visited because of the decision to require vaccines.

“Some people felt safer, and that’s the whole point,” Levy said.

According to Levy, the decision to mandate that customers be vaccinated is simply following the science and Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. “When you’re drinking a drink, you pretty much have to have your mask off,” Levy said. Moreover, “nationwide there’s a big trend” to require vaccines, he said.

Still, Levy said it was a difficult decision to make.

“It’s uncomfortable for any business to tell people you’d rather not have them come in,” said Levy, adding that it “flies in the face of doing business.” But, although the mandate “bothers us” he said, “this is a strange situation.” Levy believes that vaccinations are necessary to end the pandemic and “we hope to encourage that.”

Similarly, Zimmerman said that the hope is that more businesses will follow Lavelle’s Bistro’s lead and require that customers show proof of vaccination.

At least for now, though, other Fairbanks establishments are not implementing vaccine requirements. Despite social media rumors to the contrary, Lavelle’s Taphouse, which is a separate entity from Lavelle’s Bistro, is not requiring that customers be vaccinated.

Larry Lowery, General Manager of the Library Bar, said that the restaurant and bar has not considered implementing a vaccine mandate for customers or staff. “We feel that’s not our decision to make,” he said. However, Lowery noted, 98% of staff at the Library are already vaccinated.

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 907-459-7544 or mthomas@newsminer.com.

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