“We are in a bit of a perfect storm”

Subjected to a seesaw of lockdown regulations, restaurateurs look to the province to cover some of the tab

Photo: Ian Kennard, owner of Willie’s Café

ONTARIO’S RESTAURATEUR COMMUNITY is peeved ― again ― at the latest lockdown and stay-at-home orders and are demanding that the Ford government step up to cover the $100 million tab created by the shutdowns.

“We are not all in this together,” reads an open letter published on Tuesday by Restaurants Canada. “In a year when so many others have continued to receive their full pay, and some industries thrived during the pandemic, those in the restaurant sector have never worked harder and lost so much through no fault of their own.”

According to Restaurants Canada, the most recent shutdown order has cost each restaurant an average of $10,000, and the industry as a whole more than $100 million.

For Ian Kennard, owner of Willie’s Café on Dundas Street, another lockdown means another painful hit to the business, more struggle and more fighting to keep afloat in a competitive, low-margin delivery environment.

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“Initial shut-down, stay-at-home order was a loss of $5,000 to $7,000 a week in revenue, plus loss of product,” Kennard says. “The switch to third-party delivery service has negatively impacted our bottom line, since they take 19 to 25 per cent of sale, while profit margins in our business are typically 5 to 7 per cent.

“Couple that with the six-month construction scheduled for Dundas Street and we are in a bit of a perfect storm,” he adds.

Few industries have been subjected to the seesaw of lockdown regulations that restaurants have; this most recent lockdown came only weeks after the industry lobbied to keep patios open even in Grey-lockdown areas. “While allowing other industries to continue indoor operations, your government has needlessly undercut confidence in the restaurant industry,” the letter reads. “As evidenced by the crowded retail stores and plentiful private gatherings over the weekend, scapegoating the restaurant sector is clearly not going to get the province’s third wave under control.”

Restaurant owners like Kennard find themselves then in impossible positions — tired of lockdowns, and equally tired of an ineffectual response to rising cases. “As hard as the stay-at-home order is, it is also what is needed,” Kennard says. “The up and down of the shutdowns is painful, almost impossible to plan for, and confusing.”

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Broadly, the food industry agrees on what they need — money and support. Included in Restaurant Canada’s open letter were specific requests for aid, including a “sector-specific program for covering reopening/closure costs,” increased funding through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant program, tax breaks for food businesses and an exemption from markups at the LCBO.

Kennard adds that his business would like to see the continuation of federal wage supports and rent subsidies, as well as debt forgiveness for CEBA loans. Those, he said, would go a long way to helping business weather the latest round of restrictions and hopefully emerge on the other side.

As painful as those are, though, Kennard sees only one way forward that will truly help the food industry — a better pandemic response, a better vaccine rollout and more financial supports.

“We need to put this behind us,” he says. “Vaccines now, [and] government sponsored paid sick leave.” “We are in a bit of a perfect storm” lockdown Food & Beverage Kieran Delamont

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