The day before the latest COVID-19 lockdown in Ontario was announced, a Toronto seafood restaurant ordered 800 oysters. With no authorized diners, the owner had to scramble to find a way to sell them within 24 hours.
Rik Ocvirk, vice president of the Distillery Restaurants Corporation, which runs Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill in Toronto along with four other businesses, says food loss is one of the industry’s biggest impacts when a shutdown is ordered. He was not surprised that Restaurants Canada estimates that establishments lose $ 10,000 every time a sudden closure is ordered.
This was the case with the recent shutdown of all non-essential businesses in Ontario, which left Ocvirk and others in the industry feeling bitter.
âImagine every time that happens you have to readjust the staff, the food, everything,â he said.
âWe just decided (to have) cut a bale on the last day and sell almost all 800, but you’re not selling it for the right price. You sell it at a discount just so you can get rid of it. So you don’t have to throw it in the trash.
Opening and closing a business means not only throwing away products, but also having to find new ways to try and break even. Whether that means new take-out advertising or security measures for patios if they are allowed to stay open – Ocvirk says it all adds up.
Unlike British Columbia, Ontario has offered no subsidy to offset these losses. Ocvirk’s business is too big to support small and medium-sized enterprises from the federal government, but has found some relief with the wage subsidy program and the second round of rent relief after not being eligible for the first round. He says this shows the need for more industry specific support in the province.
âWith five restaurants added together, we’re under one name, so because we’re one companyâ¦ we don’t get anything,â he said. âAll the other little things might be great for some of the mom-pop stores, but if you’re in the businessâ¦ we’re too big to qualify for some of them.â
Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, says the central part of the restaurant industry in his province is being left behind. Many restaurants are only on the rise, he adds.
âWithout the wage subsidy, I would say 40 to 50 percent of all hotels and restaurants would have been closed. They wouldn’t have worked today, âsays Tony Elenis of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association. #COVID
âThere is nothing specific for a sector that suffers the most,â he said. âWithout the wage subsidy, I would say 40 to 50 percent of all hotels and restaurants would have been closed. No way they would have worked today. “
An estimated 10% of dining establishments across the country have already closed for good, leaving Elenis wondering what a long-term stimulus package might look like. He also cites British Columbia, which passed a permanent change to allow restaurants to buy wholesale alcohol from the government – and he would like the same to happen in Ontario.
However, things are not easy in British Columbia. The loss of $ 10,000 also applies to restaurants on the west coast. The Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant is offering up to $ 10,000 to restaurants affected by recent orders for health products, but Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada vice-president for Western Canada, says most operations will only be eligible for $ 5,000.
âEvery little bit helps, and we appreciate how quickly the minister and the government secured funding for the circuit breaker one week after the shutdown,â he said.
âSo definitely we’re looking for more subsidy relief. The longer that shutdown lasts … it can keep the doors open, the lights on for a few more weeks, but it’s definitely short-term.
Tannis Ling is currently applying for the Breaker Grant for her restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Bao Bei. Like von Schellwitz, she says any help is appreciated, but the amount offered will not make or break a restaurant.
With the province’s restrictions on indoor dining expected to continue through at least May, Ling is working on creating a patio for Bao Bei, which has no outdoor space. .
As tough as any other pivot is, Ling notes a comparison to last year’s full shutdown. She says her business is not expected to make any money in the next period, but the money earned when indoor dining is allowed will help soften the blow.
âIt’s like dÃ©jÃ vu for us because it’s totally back in this same mode. It’s not so depressing this time, because the weather is nice. Last year we had to close the windows – it was like the apocalypse outside, âshe said.
âBut now people still go to the parks and the kids can go to the playground, so it’s not that big of a deal. It’s like, at least for us, we know there is an end in sight. So it’s kind of like, let’s get through these next five weeks.
Cloe Logan / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada