In less than a week, Lavelle’s Bistro will become the first restaurant in Fairbanks to require both its staff and customers to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The rule goes into effect on Nov. 1; as of that date, customers must be fully vaccinated to enter the establishment, while staff are required to have received their first vaccine dose. This decision has been met with mixed reactions and so far no other restaurants in Fairbanks have announced plans to follow suit.
Owner Frank Eagle explained they decided to institute a mandate to inspire more Fairbanksans to get vaccinated in an effort to end the pandemic as quickly as possible. Eagle said that he and Lavelle’s co-owner Kathy Lavelle were traveling abroad, where “everyone shows their vaccination card just like they would show their ID buying wine.” According to Eagle, the requirement does not prevent anyone from doing anything; people are simply not allowed to enter some establishments without a vaccine card.
“It’s painless and it makes sense,” Eagle added, comparing it to needing a license to drive a car.
Inspired by the way other countries are handling the pandemic, Eagle and Lavelle decided to create a vaccine requirement in their own restaurant. “We should think globally and act locally,” Eagle said. Eagle believes businesses should do what they can to stop the virus from spreading.
His hope is that Lavelle’s vaccine requirement will encourage more Fairbanksans to get the shot. Hospitals — including Fairbanks Memorial Hospital — are overwhelmed with Covid patients, the majority of whom are unvaccinated.
Although other countries and several states have implemented vaccine requirements, the response in Fairbanks so far has been mixed.
“There is a loud vocal group of citizens that have a variety of views about privacy issues and vaccine theories, and they have the right to their opinions,” Eagle said. While he acknowledged that this could hurt their business, he added, “I’d rather be poor and alive rather than rich and dead.”
On the flip side, however, Lavelle’s could also receive business from Fairbanksans who feel safer eating in a restaurant where they know everyone is vaccinated. This was the case for Fairbanks Distilling Company, which first implemented a vaccine requirement in the spring, owner Patrick Leavy said.
Some of the unvaccinated people who were turned away gave horrible reviews online, he said.. 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.
At least for now, other high-end Fairbanks establishments are not implementing vaccine requirements for customers, which could either be good or bad for Lavelle’s business.
Larry Lowery, general manager of The Library Bar & Bites, said 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.
Vivian Bubbel, owner of The Pump House, said that she is not mandating vaccines among either her staff or customers. She is encouraging people to get vaccinated but would not implement a vaccine requirement unless the shot becomes government mandated.
Lavelle’s Taphouse, a separate entity from Lavelle’s Bistro, is not implementing a vaccine requirement.
Representatives for Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, Latitude 65 (located at the Borealis Basecamp resort), and the Vallata declined interviews, and messages to The Turtle Club were not returned.