The owner of one of Toronto’s longest-standing restaurants, who was using his patio as a means of keeping his business alive during Ontario’s most recent COVID-19 lockdown, says the city has forced him to close the popular outdoor space.

“I don’t know how to run my business anymore,” Café Diplomatico owner Rocco Mastrangelo Jr. told CTV News Toronto over the phone. “Every day, we’re on pins and needles. We don’t know if [we’re going to be ordered to] close or open. Like, this is really screwing with people’s heads and livelihoods.”

Mastrangelo took over the College Street landmark 27 years ago that his father, Rocco Mastrangelo Sr., who died last year at 88, started back in 1968.

Since the pandemic began, Mastrangelo explains he’s been trying to navigate the ever-changing nature of Ontario’s COVID-19 public health restrictions, and says his employees and his bottom line have paid the price.

“I had to lay off [my employees] for the first time in March 2020. It was the hardest thing to do. Not only that, I have to lay them off again now,” Mastrangelo said.

Following the latest round of public health restrictions announced by the province on Jan. 5, which forced restaurants and bars to halt indoor dining until at least Jan. 26 (now extended to Jan 31), Mastrangelo decided to open his patio, which he says he’s invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into over the years.

The heated space, which also happens to house a fire hydrant that Mastrangelo said was never a problem until recently, was a hit. Lines were regularly seen out the door and customers even braved sub -20 degree Celsius weather earlier this month to grab a seat.

However, according to the Reopening Ontario Act (ROA), outdoor patios are only permitted so long as two full sides of the area are open to the outdoors. If the patio has a retractable roof, which Café Dip does, and the roof is retracted, the patio must have at least one full side of the outdoor area open to the outdoors.

The patio was shut down last week by the city, and Mastrangelo said he’s been served with notices to comply and notices of violation.

Mastrangelo acknowledges that the space was not in compliance with those rules, and says he is working to reopen the space on Jan. 31, but admits the space is virtually useless if temperatures drop significantly.

“This is destroying my life, my family, my wife, my kids, my mother’s getting sick,” Mastrangelo said. “If I’m doing something wrong, which I agree I was, I was doing it to come back and be viable, give my staff employment so that they can feed their families and give my customers a place to go.”

“People are tired of this. It’s ridiculous.”

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Toronto Public Health’s enforcement team said, “the City of Toronto continues to use an educational approach to provide operators and businesses with information and regulations under the ROA.”

They said they were unable to provide any additional comments specific to the closure of Café Diplomatico’s outdoor patio as their investigation into the business is ongoing.