BALTIMORE — It was in August when Zack Mills decided his restaurant True Chesapeake Oyster Company would require customers to show proof of vaccination.
“I always joke that I actually get paid to assume the worse at all times to fix problems before we see them happening,” he said.
The Hampden business became the first restaurant to implement such a policy in Baltimore City. The decision was made well before the omicron variant would lead to the worst surge of the virus to date.
“We did not take the decision lightly,” Mills said. “We at the time and still do feel it was the best thing to keep our staff and our guest safe as well as putting a down payment on safety through the winter.”
Mills said business since the policy went into effect has been mostly the same, while he’s received mixed reactions from customers.
“We had people say they won’t come here because of it, then we had people saying that they never been here before, but they are coming in now because of it,” Mills said.
Some Baltimore businesses have also decided on their own to require proof of vaccination. One of the latest is another restaurant in Hampden called the Golden West Cafe.
“I think it’s a great approach,” said Alexis Daniels who was dining with loved ones at True Chesapeake Oyster Company.
Daniels said she supports a policy requiring customers to show proof of vaccination.
The new mother said she has concerns about the virus but felt safe dining out because of the restaurant’s vaccine policy.
“This is our first time out in weeks. Definitely had hesitations about coming out, but this is pretty much the only place that I would be comfortable going out because of the proof of vaccination [policy].”
Mills also said he’s seen the benefits of the policy. He said the restaurant has earned respect among staff while also earning “lifelong guests” because of them making safety a top priority.
“We hear a bunch of different stories from guests saying I have several friends that only have come here. In the last two years, they’ve only gone out to eat in this restaurant because they know for a fact this is their best chance of being safe,” Mills said. “And that warms my heart. To me, that means a lot.”
Last month, Mayor Brandon Scott said the city would explore the idea of a vaccine passport program
In a statement, Scott said in part “we are continuing to seriously consider this measure."
"We will continue to engage business and community leaders during this process. The only way we will defeat this pandemic is by looking out for each other. A vaccine passport is an innovative way to confirm your vaccination status so Baltimoreans can continue doing the things they love while limiting the spread of the disease. I met with County Executives to explore a realistic path forward, but vaccine passports present some challenges. As we assess the prospects of a vaccine passport, we must do so with an equity lens and consider the impact vaccine passports will have on small businesses – the backbone of our economy. They took a major hit during the onset of the pandemic, so we must ensure that any measures be considered allows our small businesses to continue to thrive. That said, the growing threat of the omicron variant requires swift and urgent action. With cities across the country taking steps to implement a vaccine passport, we are continuing to seriously consider this measure."