Hookah lounge re-opening held up due to smoking bylaw

Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow -
Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow
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A Burnaby hookah lounge forced to relocate is hitting smoking-bylaw roadblocks in its efforts to reopen.

Honeyeh Adibi-Larijani spoke at Monday's council meeting on behalf of her mother, the owner of Hafez Tea House which has operated in the city for 12 years. The business serves non-tobacco hookah and Persian teas and beverages in a traditional Middle-Eastern setting.

The owner is seeking an exemption to the city's smoking bylaw which prohibits smoking indoors except in a smoking room that is physically separated from the rest of the premises, complete with separate heating and ventilation systems. The bylaw would also prohibit the business from serving beverages in the smoking-only room which would be necessary to sustain the business.

In 2004, the family asked Burnaby council for an exemption to the bylaw, which was granted, said Adibi-Larijani.

But earlier this year they were forced to move the business after the building it was in was sold to a buyer who plans to redevelop the property, she said. They've since found a new location down the street at 6649 E. Hastings St. but are facing the same situation with the smoking bylaw as they did nine years ago.

"We don't have non-smokers enter the premises," she said. "Everyone is well aware they're entering a smoking establishment."

The requirement to build a separate smoking room is a waste of space, would severely alter the atmosphere of the business and would cause a serious financial hardship on the family, Adibi-Larijani said.

She said that the cities of Vancouver and Port Moody allow cultural tea lounges through changes to their smoking bylaws.

Mayor Derek Corrigan was sympathetic, recalling that many pubs, clubs and legion halls in Burnaby suffered financially when the provincial government decided such businesses could have separate smoking rooms, then prohibited them a few years later after many had made significant investments in them.

"This is not something that we haven't dealt with before, which is the regulations imposed on cities by Fraser Health," Corrigan said.

"Now they're using the bylaw they made us put in to enforce against you."

Adibi-Larijani said the business is not actively marketed but its customers come from all over the Lower Mainland through word of mouth. Her mother added that many tourists come to visit as a result of online reviews.

Coun. Nick Volkow was supportive of an exemption, noting he has visited the business in the past and a person wouldn't even know people were smoking, "its not like smoking tobacco."

The business owner added that she received her temporary business licence last week from city hall but Fraser Health won't allow her to open until she abides by the smoking bylaw. And if she goes ahead anyway, she faces a fine of $350 per day she's open.

"I've been closed since May, I'm almost broke, I've got bills to pay," she said.

"You're just going to have to avoid being fined until we figure out what opportunities can be provided," responded Corrigan.

"We need staff to report back, and quickly."

Council directed staff to look into Port Moody's smoking bylaw and how it can offer an exemption to the business and report back at a future meeting.

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