Former (and we hope future) Canadian restaurateur Jesse Johnson talks to the RAIR Foundation about how the vaccine mandates destroyed his business, livelihood, and life. But he is not about to give in to tyranny.
Jesse Johnson first opened WOP Pizza in 2011. He also owned a restaurant next door to it that he opened in 2001. Both were located in the Inglewood neighborhood of Calgary. Because his first restaurant was quite popular, the opening of WOP Pizza got significant media attention. Johnson relates the story of how WOP Pizza got its name. Johnson and his business partner were asked if they would join the Neapolitan Pizza Association, which you can join if you make Neapolitan pizzas. The catch is that you then have to buy many ingredients from specific vendors. “No, we’re not going to be part of any organization. We’re going to be without papers,” his partner shouted in reply. And so “WOP Pizza” was christened. However, Johnson says the term “wop” didn’t actually originate from “without papers.” It is derived from the Neapolitan term “guappo,” often used to refer to troublemakers.
Johnson’s business thrived until the advent of Covid and the imposition of government edicts. His restaurant was an institution in Calgary, attended by people of all persuasions and ages. Prominent politicians such as Premier Jason Kenney, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, and NDP leader Rachel Notley were among the regulars. Eating at WOP Pizza was about more than food; it was about creating memorable eating experiences with friends. The atmosphere of the dining room could change depending on the crowd. The same room resembled a mosh pit on a Friday night and could become an entertainment center for kids on a Sunday morning, where clowns taught youngsters how to make pizza. Johnson points out that while different people may have different pursuits, passions, and hobbies, everyone needs to eat, and people like to eat together.
During the “old normal,” Johnson’s restaurant, which had 60 seats, would see 200 covers on a Friday night. That all changed abruptly on March 15, 2020, the first day of the Covid lockdown. Within 48 hours, his business went from thriving to zero. Messaging from the government was that eating at a restaurant was “akin to going to a leper colony.” A popular local institution became a take-out place. When restaurants were allowed to reopen, they were subjected to “ridiculous rules that made no sense whatsoever.” Rules like masking, table spacing, plexiglass separators, excessive use of sanitizer, and signage. Something that took him 20 years to create was “destroyed piece by piece,” an ordeal Johnson describes as “gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.”
The pièce de resistance was the vaccine mandate that was enacted on September 20, 2021. Only the vaccinated were to be allowed to eat in restaurants. On that day, Johnson made a post announcing that he would not comply with bylaw 65M-2021. His post said that everyone was welcome regardless of vaccination status and would be treated equally. He believed in bodily autonomy and that the bylaw violated the Charter and the Bill of Rights. Within three weeks of his announcement, Johnson’s restaurant went from “thriving” to the extent possible under Covid edicts to “destroyed.” First, the state sent in undercover officers who, of course, were not checked for vaccination status. Then, on October 9, 2021, the state robbed him of his restaurant. All of his permits and licenses were rescinded, which in effect negated the restaurant’s lease. The sheriff arrived and gave them two hours to vacate the premises. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of valuable equipment remain in the former restaurant. Johnson says the authorities were vicious in their attack and have come close to bankrupting him.
In addition to the enormous financial losses, Johnson was vilified and ostracized by the community and City he gave his life to. Johnson says these events divided him from his family and caused him to suffer greatly, but he declines to go into specifics. He is dismayed at the number of people who think it is acceptable to discriminate against someone based on a person’s medical decision, likely after much research and despite the incessant propaganda of the “narrative.” Johnson calls the vaccine requirement “a disgusting, criminal, heinous act.”
While many people think Johnson is a fool for his decision and that the WOP Pizza brand is gone forever, Johnson disagrees. He believes there would be a “lineup down the street” if he reopens at the same location (which is still sitting empty). If 25 percent of the population agrees with him, there would be over 400,000 potential customers who are solid in their belief that “freedom trumps everything.” Johnson says he would consider reopening in Calgary, his home for 50 years, but recognizes that it might be time to move on. He has been solicited to open in Florida and Texas. As for legal action to regain his confiscated material, Johnson says that while he believes he has legal recourse, he also believes that the court system is so corrupt that there is not much point in pursuing legal action now. He is hopeful that the narrative will change and he will be vindicated. He believes that the City of Calgary and the Alberta Health Services, among many others, are guilty of crimes. When the time is right, he will pursue legal action.
Prior to Covid measures, Johnson had been successful in a precarious business. He employed 30 people at WOP Pizza and had other projects. Johnson went from owning three houses and three businesses to sleeping on the back of a truck. He survived the winter outside on some land he owns in BC without services or plumbing. It was the coldest, hardest, darkest winter of his life.
But Johnson is fighting back. Never politically active before and trusting in the law to protect his rights, he has now dedicated his life to protest. He has found many supporters. Regular Thursday rallies just down the street from his restaurant grew organically. They reached their zenith in the middle of January. At minus 30 degrees, 150 people would come out to support him. When the Inglewood BIA (Business Improvement Association) asked him to move to the parking lot at the corner because they thought the protests disruptive, Johnson set up his base there. He found that people would quietly seek him out. Mothers with young children asked questions and expressed their own fears. Some broke down in tears, saying they didn’t know what to do, their neighbors hated them, and they were afraid their husband would lose his job, house, etc.
Johnson realized that he needed to change the gathering from a place of protest to a place of support. So they moved back from the street into the parking lot itself so people could have a bit of anonymity in finding information and support. The protests that had started in mid-October continued until the latter part of January. Then the City of Calgary put a fence around the parking lot, allegedly for renovation but in reality to stop the gathering.
Johnson has attended other protests. The trucker protest gave him some hope. When the BC Freedom Convoy left Vancouver, he went to greet them in Golden. Then, he went to Coutts, Alberta, to support the trucker protest and stayed for 16 days. It was one of the most powerful experiences of his life. There were perhaps 10,000 people camped out in the prairie in the middle of winter. The surrounding communities provided an amazing amount of food, especially the Amish community. While he was there, Premier Jason Kenney rescinded the vaccine passport. Intending to go to Ottawa, Johnson made a stop in Winnipeg, where he saw trucks parked on the lawn of the legislative buildings and learned that truckers had set up a Freedom Convoy there. On the night he arrived, the Trans Canada Highway out of Winnipeg was closed, so he stayed for five days.
The media, Johnson says, have treated his protests with derision. As far as he is concerned, they are enemy propaganda. They ignore protests of tens of thousands of people but are there right away if there is a false flag. The City obtained a court injunction saying that anyone who attended the rallies would be arrested. The number of people who attended rallies dropped dramatically. Johnson’s friend was arrested for allegedly assaulting police while standing in a park. Video showed that the assault was the officer tripping over his own shoelaces.
When RAIR points out that Canadians have lost the right to peaceful assembly in addition to the right to come and go, regardless of the Charter, Johnson agrees, saying that simply honking one’s horn could get one pulled over and ticketed.
Johnson concludes by saying that RAIR (and alternate media) are the actual media and that he hopes the message is spread far and wide. He encourages people to rise up and make their voices heard on the street.