Neighborhood Restaurateurs React to City’s New B Together Vaccination Mandate

While some other Boston restaurateurs might consider Mayor Michelle Wu ‘s new B Together mandate requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter certain indoor spaces citywide, including restaurants, to be an unnecessary inconvenience for customers and themselves, Babak Bina sees it as no more of a hassle than carding patrons who order alcoholic beverages at his establishments.

“It’s nothing more than the city and state’s mandate that we have to check someone’s license if we suspect they’re underage,” said Bina, who, along with his sister, Azita Bina-Seibel, owns and operates Bin 26 Enoteca on Charles Street, as well as jm Curley and its steakhouse, Bogie’s Place, in Downtown Crossing.  “I don’t think there’s much of a difference in our view.”

The city’s poster informing the public of its
new B Together vaccine mandate for indoor dining, fitness, and entertainment venues.
1928 Beacon Hill at 97 Mount Vernon St.
A look inside Bin 26 Enoteca at 26 Charles St.

For their part, customers at Bina’s restaurant have also been respectful and understanding when it comes to the city’s new mandate.

“We’ve had no issues at either location,” said Bina. “People have not been resistant. They understand it is what it is, and that we are obviously  just trying to comply with the city mandate.”

As of Saturday, Jan. 15, patrons and staff must provide proof they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to enter restaurants, as well as fitness and entrainment venues, throughout the city. Subsequent phases of the B Together mandate include: a requirement for people ages 12 and up must show proof of full vaccination (two doses for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines) by Tuesday, Feb. 15; a requirement for children ages 5-11 to show proof of one dose of vaccination by Tuesday, March 1; and a requirement for children ages 5-11 to show proof of both doses of vaccination by Sunday, May 1. For proof of vaccination, individuals can either provide a CDC vaccination card; a digital image of their CDC card; an image of any official immunization record; or the city’s B Together app or any other COVID vaccine verification app.

Like Bina, Kristin Jenkins, owner 1928 Beacon Hill, the recently opened restaurant and bar at 97 Mount Vernon St., said the B Together roll-out has gone without a hitch so far for them as well.

“It’s been very smooth for us so far, thankfully,” Jenkins wrote in email.  “We check at the door. Everyone has been willing, prepared and happy to show proof of vaccination. We have not had any issues.”

Jenkins added all employees at 1928 Beacon Hill have been fully vaccinated, and that the restaurant will “continue to take all safety measures moving forward.”

Likewise, City Councilor Kenzie Bok was impressed by how smoothly things were going on Saturday night when she stopped by 1928 Beacon Hill, as well as Antonio’s Cucina Italiano at 288 Cambridge St.

“This weekend I went out to two Beacon Hill restaurants, Antonio’s and 1928,” wrote Councilor Bok. 

“Both checked vaccination cards quickly and efficiently. It didn’t disrupt the dining experience, and as we ate just a stone’s throw from Mass General Hospital, it felt like a small step we could take collectively to make sure that there are enough hospital beds for everyone who needs one.”

For Steven Colarusso, owner of Antonio’s, however, the city’s new mandate comes at a time when his restaurant is already fighting to survive.

“It’s been  our two worst weeks in 27 years,” he said Tuesday morning.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Colarusso added, “Everything was good until the end of November, but even December was off, and the last two weeks have been brutal. No one’s doing business. It’s going to be crazy this winter if cases keep up like this.”

In the past two weeks, Antonio’s has had some days where staff outnumbered customers.

“And when you have more staff than customers how are you going to survive?” asked Colarusso. “I feel bad for the staff, but we’re working with less people now so hopefully they can make a couple of bucks.”

While Colarusso said it’s still too early to tell how much of an impact the B Together mandate would have on his business, especially since Monday was a holiday, he expressed concern that diners would seek other less-restrictive options outside the city.

“It was dead before this happened,” Colarusso said of the city’s new mandate. “This is just going to cause us to lose a little more business, and if other towns aren’t [requiring proof of vaccination to enter their restaurants], people will just eat there.”

Colarusso also views B Together as something of a step backwards from the mandates imposed on restaurants at the beginning of the pandemic.

During the earlier protocol for restaurants amid the virus, customers had their temperatures taken upon arrival, and their tables were then spaced at least six feet apart when dining. But Colarusso said, “Now, we can’t even let them in without a card.”

But despite recent setbacks, Colarusso is still holding out hope that most of his would-be patrons are now staying away from Antonio’s as they’re recovering from having the virus. “I think everyone’s out sick, and it’s just taking them a couple of weeks to recuperate, but we’ll know soon enough,” he said

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