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Boston restaurant owner sees both sides, but supports the city's vaccine mandate06:47
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Nia Grace, owner of Darryl's Corner Bar & Kitchen. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Nia Grace, owner of Darryl's Corner Bar & Kitchen. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Starting Saturday, anyone eating, drinking or spending time in a Boston restaurant, bar, gym or cultural venue will have to prove they're vaccinated against the coronavirus.

A city order requires patrons and employees ages 12 and over to have at least one COVID-19 shot by Jan. 15. Second shots are required by the Feb. 15.

Darryl's Corner Bar & Kitchen on Columbus Ave. is one of the places that will begin checking customers' vaccine status. That can be done through the use of state-sponsored digital vaccine cards, actual paper vaccine cards or photos of those cards.

Darryl's is known for live jazz and soul music. Owner Nia Grace says when you walk into the establishment, "the first thing that's going to hit you is the smell." The restaurant specializes in southern comfort food.

"So from our country fried chicken wings to our barbecue chicken plate, or even our roasted maple soy wings, we've got your chicken covered," Grace says. "But we also serve catfish — a wonderful catfish dish or appetizer — gumbo, shrimp and grits if you like seafood ... [The restaurant is] very quaint, but you're going to see a bustling neighborhood bar that features live music."

But it's been tough for Grace to keep the restaurant thriving. She bought it in 2018. After the pandemic hit, she says, she stopped taking a salary and just broke even on the business. She found ways to operate more efficiently, with a smaller staff.

Grace also owns a cafe at Northeastern University called The Underground, which she opened this past fall. She's a co-founder of the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, and she serves on a COVID-19 advisory committee, appointed by Mayor Michelle Wu.

Grace spoke with Steve Brown on WBUR's All Things Considered about her support for the vaccine mandate:

Interview Highlights

On why she sees cooperating with the proof-of-vaccination mandate for employees and customers as part of her duty as a restaurant owner:

"If I'm a business owner who chose to get into this line of business, I have requirements from the city and from the state on how I'm supposed to be a safe and responsible operator. And so, at the end of the day, if they let me know that there's one extra thing that I need to do, then I'm going to do it.

"It doesn't require a lot of heavy lifting for us. If it did, trust me, I would push back on that. And I actually had the opportunity to sit with the advisory committee for COVID-19 for the city of Boston to go ahead and talk about some of those pushbacks that we might have as an industry. So I believe that it was heard, and that's why we actually have the option of being able to present multiple proof of vaccinations.

"Overall, what I'm in favor of is healthy customers and healthy staff, right? I have suffered loss, from family I've lost in the beginning of the epidemic, prior to the vaccine being available. See, and when I talk about family, I'm also talking about some of my customers and performers here. And so at this point, I'm promoting healthy lives.

"I want to make sure that when customers are coming in here, I have to maybe worry less about the spread ... knowing that everyone who comes in here has valued their life enough to have some kind of protection over them. ... Listen, the vaccine is working. I have been scared of contracting COVID for 23 months. I recently did contract COVID. I thought I was going to die should I ever get it, because of my asthma, because of my preexisting heart condition. And I did not. And so that's not the fate that I want for anybody who comes into my establishment — to sit down, enjoy that chicken and waffles, and then they get COVID. And then they're no longer with us. So I definitely I appreciate [the vaccination requirement]."

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On whether she expects the vaccination requirement to negatively impact her business:

"I mean, I do. I think that, you know, in terms of the impact on business, I think it'll be less than I assume. I think I have more anxiety about the negative and I'll watch and see that it'll be a little bit more positive than I had expected it to be.

"Some [customers] are like, 'I'm fine with it,' and it's kind of like a badge of honor to show me all three doses, right? And that's great. Others, they give me, 'Is this a discriminatory policy?' ... And I think that it gives us an opportunity to, in fact, have the conversation. ...

"Personal connections allow me to plead with a customer and relate to them and say, 'Listen, I totally understand. I'm not forcing [the vaccine] on anybody. I'm not judging anybody for doing it or not doing it. I just always — I care and love anyone I interact with. And so I'm going to give you what's out of my, you know, heart and what I care about, and I'm still going to respect your decision. So if you choose to say, 'Listen, no one's going to tell me that I need to do this just to go here, and so I'm not coming,' I respect that. And I hope that, at some point in time, you don't hold it against me for making sure that my business can maintain by enforcing something that was done by the city."

On whether her employees are complying with the mandate:

"A hundred percent of my staff has at least one dose of the vaccine. Everyone will be fully vaccinated and boosted by Feb. 15. We're a small familial team. We understand that, literally, the one person next to us is make or break on if we have a livelihood. ... We will be requiring the proof of the vaccine mandate. But our biggest requirement is that you're going to come in here and have a good time. So you'll have live music, you'll have the great aromas, you'll have the best chicken and waffles in the city. You're going to have a great cocktail or maybe a mocktail, but at the end of the day, you're going to have community and we're going to be together."

This segment aired on January 13, 2022.

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