Restaurants adapt to serve during pandemic
By Sue Tiffin
Local restaurant owners are struggling to keep doors open day-by-day, while dining rooms are closed across the province after a provincial state of emergency was declared March 17 in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The declaration, made by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, bans gatherings of more than 50 people and closed bars and restaurants to service outside of takeout food and delivery.
The Dominion Hotel in downtown Minden announced that afternoon that it would be closed until further notice.
“We are heavy-hearted in closing the Dominion Hotel,” owner Shawn Chamberlin told the Echo. “The Dominion has been in the centre of Minden for over 155 years. It has provided food and shelter through sub zero weather conditions and storms, floods that shut down the town and more calamity. The ‘D’ has been the place where folks come to be reassured there still is life. It is their connection to humanity. Where kind words are exchanged. Where a friend can be found to talk with. And a place where people can find a little happiness. When the doors are locked this bit of life is removed from the community.”
Chamberlin said the decision to completely close the establishment was based on concern for staff.
“Staying open for take-out only would mean some staff would have to work,” he said. “However, this would mean we could jeopardize their chances of applying and qualifying for government assistance programs. We wanted our staff to have as much chance as possible to receive help. Naturally our other thought was to eliminate any chances of staff exposure to flu germs. As employers we have few tools to protect our staff. This is an important one.”
Chamberlin said there is worry, but also faith and hope that people will pull together throughout the pandemic.
“But we still are worried,” he said. “Timing is our enemy and the costs to small business build as the days go on. At some point these costs will hit a tipping point. And, like most businesses in the Highlands, we suffer through the winter as our sales decline. Most businesses feel that it is a good month when they break even in the winter. So our cash reserves are not in good shape. Like all other businesses I’m sure, we are worried about our investment.”
In response to how the government is handling the crisis, Chamberlin said, “I would not want to have my final report card at the beginning of my semester. I think we can only accurately measure government’s response after this crisis is all done.”
“I think that there are many in the government who are sincere and are working within the limits of their office to help Canadians,” he said. “We have to wait and see how their programs roll out. Hopefully the near future will have meaningful announcements. But time is of the essence. Our bills keep coming. Heat, water, insurance bills don’t realize there is a crisis.”
Across the river at Molly’s Bistro Bakery, staff have largely been laid off, but the business remains open promoting take-out meals, frozen meals and soup that have always been an option.
“I think I’ll stay open until they tell me I have to close,” said McInerney, “because I think we have it well-managed here with how we’re handling everything and sanitizing, and keeping everyone at their distance.”
McInerney said she hopes to also offer delivery service in the town of Minden for those unable to come to the Bobcaygeon Road location, or for those practicing physical distancing.
While Boshkung Brewery retail spots remain open for take-out, Rhubarb announced its closure on March 17.
“We really, really felt that it wasn’t financially responsible to stay open,” said Terri Mathews-Carl. “We make everything made to order from scratch and that’s hard to prep for in advance not knowing how many would order take- out. We also feel it is safer for our staff and the public to be closed.”
She appreciated that employment insurance measures were put in place by the government to aid those in need, but noted, “it’s still going to be very hard financially for everyone to manage during this time.”
Despite a time that is stressful for everyone, Mathews-Carl was staying positive.
“We are in good spirits and hopeful,” she said. “People are kind and it’s nice to see people offering helping hands.”
McKeck’s Tap & Grill in Haliburton has stayed open, with chef Aaron Walker working alongside his wife, Melissa, to serve customers take-out food after all other staff was laid off.
“We are distressed that there is no communication of expected outcomes regarding closures of hospitality since it is impossible to plan without information, henceforth, we plan for the worst,” he said. “We expect long-term closure as the situation deteriorates. We would gladly self-isolate but reality is that we have to pay rent, hydro, propane, insurance, etc. We have maintained benefits for our staff as they are laid off. We hope for positive outcomes in the upcoming months, however, no communication exists to guide us so we are preparing for our worst-case scenario.”
Andy Oh at Maple Avenue Tap and Grill in Haliburton said he was stressed over the situation as he continually wondered whether he should stay open or close.
“It is a constant concern,” he told restaurant spokesperson Kathryn Kidd.
Oh was keeping “Maple Ave,” as it’s known colloquially, open with the help of his wife and daughter. A total of 13 people have been laid off from the restaurant.
“It is a time of stress for everyone,” he said. “Everyone handles stress differently. It is a personality ‘thing’ and everyone has their own way. Some handle it better than others.”
Oh said he wanted everyone to come together as a community.
“Check on your neighbours,” he said. “we are not a community that is all about ‘me’ and ‘I,’ we are a community that is about ‘we’ and ‘us.’ We need to work and move forward through this as one community, as a whole, and not hoarding toilet paper.”
Oh hoped to stay open for the community, but made the decision on the weekend to close.