Daniel Cook operates Donegal’s Rock & Irish House on 96th Avenue in Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Insurance ‘shock’ for B.C. pub operator who found a way to reopen after COVID shutdown

‘It’s not just us, it’s happening to other bar owners,’ says Donegal’s operator Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook says it’s a happy ending for him and his staff, now that his Surrey-area pub is set to reopen after an insurance-costs crisis nearly forced the place to close forever.

The doors to his Donegal’s Rock & Irish House will reopen at noon Wednesday (June 24) following a nerve-racking three months of COVID-related shutdown.

The mid-spring timing of a liability-insurance renewal was also cause for stress for him and his bar staff.

“Some of the insurance companies wanted 10 times what my rate was last year,” said Cook, who has operated Donegal’s for close to 14 years.

“It’s not just us, it’s happening to other bar owners,” Cook added. “It’s just one more thing, because we’ve been closed for several months, we’re coming back in a down market at half capacity because of physical distancing, and we won’t be doing near the volume we were doing before. Our insurance rates were already high, and now it’s going up significantly. It’s a double whammy.”

Cook has chronicled his plight in Facebook posts, including some good news on Friday (June 19): A reasonable insurance rate had been secured for the bar to reopen.

“My new rate is triple last year’s,” Cook told the Now-Leader. “It’s going to be painful but it was literally the only other option I had, so it was that or close.”

An earlier quote was for $70,000, Cook said, with a $10,000 deductible for a claim.

“I’ve heard of one bar owner getting a quote of $100,000,” Cook said, “and another, the rate went from $20,000 to $60,000 for a year.

“It was all a shock to me, how much insurance costs had risen,” he added. “It used to be a soft market with lots of vendors, lots of competition for insurance business, but then in 2018 the market shifted and they were getting tight about who they were looking at. There’s a much smaller market for insurance companies that will even touch hospitality, and most of them won’t do bars and pubs. It’s a huge issue, and it started becoming an issue even before COVID.”

• RELATED STORY: Surrey pub brings bands back as Dr. Henry warns about how singing can spread COVID-19.

Meantime, some Donegal’s regulars launched an online campaign to raise $50,000 to help Cook pay mounting bills.

“Donegal’s has given so much to this community, and to live music, we wanted to try to help them to be able to reopen, and continue that work,” says a post on gofundme.com.

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During the pandemic-related shutdown since mid-March, Cook went to work on renovations at Donegal’s, including polishing brass, new paint, lighting upgrades and some new washroom stalls.

For now, the pub operates with limited hours and plans to reintroduce live music at a later date.

“We will be working with local health officers, our staff, and some trusted musicians to formulate a plan, and to make sure that when we do (bring back live music), we can ensure that it is done right,” Cook said on Facebook.

“Yes, I’m anxious to start getting those sales up, it’s been three months of no income, and the natural inclination is to ramp up business as fast as we can,” Cook added. “But I believe that to be shortsighted, and potentially harmful. We will not be responsible for taking risks that could cause an outbreak just to make a few bucks; the lives of our community mean more than that, we will find a way to do it better.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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