Restaurants are banking on support from their local communities following the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions, which is closing indoor dining until April 19th and only allowing outdoor patios, delivery, or takeout.
The news on Monday came as a surprise to many in the industry, especially local owners in Cranbrook.
“It was a disappointment,” said Danielle Eaton, Owner and General Manager of Soulfood Farm to Table. “The government promised us – after the last minute new year’s eve debacle, they promised the restaurant association that there would be no more last minute announcements and they did exactly what they said they weren’t going to do.”
One of the buzzwords in the industry has been “pivot” as all local establishments have been forced to adaptively change to the pandemic and the rules and regulations for the industry. From the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, to the latest round of regulations in November, and now the newest restrictions which were imposed at 12:00 am on Tuesday.
“Every time something happens, we have to pivot and I want to say, yes it gets easier, but it doesn’t,” said Eaton. “We just got to another point once again where we finally had all of our staff back. Nobody was laid off, everyone had shifts, and within a week now we’re back to square one.”
Also in downtown Cranbrook, Heidi Romich, Owner and Operator of the Heid Out Restaurant and Brewhouse as well as Fisher Peak Brewing Company, told MyEastKootenayNow.com that it was “absolute shock” to hear the new restrictions on Monday.
“The biggest shock and part to deal with is staffing. With no notice, everybody is planning to pay their bills and to come to work.”
MORE: B.C. reacts to rise in COVID-19 cases with changes to regulations (March 29, 2021)
Romich said they are working on an extension of their own patio, as they have a small space for outdoor dining – weather permitting. In the process of working with local government for their patio and getting a liquor license, so they can operate outside as soon as possible, Romich said they are wrangling all of that together along with their other offerings.
“Anything to buy local will be critical for all of the businesses and whether that is for restaurants in the form of takeout meals, if its gift cards, frozen meals, shopping local from your local shops. Somehow, I know we’ve got to try and support our local fitness centres as well. They’ve been extremely hard hit and so any which way that we can, it’s going to be critical times right now.”
According to Romich, a lot of people struggled with the restrictions through November, which is typically when restaurants are able to sustain business because of Christmas. However, with revenues down this past season, Romich said the latest regulations will be another challenge for many businesses and restaurants.
“It seems to be that we’re doing the continual dance and we have to learn new steps all of the time. It’s brainstorming with the staff too on how can we keep on going. Those that are studying right now – that are able to take a break, are stepping back to allow others to have the shifts.”
For Eaton, she said she is making the active decision to not lay off any staff and keep everyone employed, holding out hope that the restrictions are just for three weeks until April 19th and not the 14-week period like last year.
“I know there’s people asking who is doing takeout. I imagine every restaurant is doing takeout,” said Eaton. “Please continue to call and place those orders, it’s so incredibly important.”
At Soulfood, Eaton is predicting that the new restrictions could see a 70% to 80% drop in their sales, which means they will be leaning into their frozen meals program again and also doing what they can with outdoor patios to keep their 20 employees on staff.
Pushing for changes to keep the restaurant afloat, Eaton said she approached Cranbrook City Council on Monday to request as much patio space as possible for local restaurants, a topic which the City said it is now currently undertaking.
MORE: Cranbrook updating outdoor patio program after new COVID-19 restrictions (March 30, 2021)
“I would love to see Baker Street closed,” suggested Eaton, in order to make room for more restaurant patios. “I know that there are people that might be unhappy about that but we are talking about people’s livelihoods. We’re not talking about, hey we’re trying to generate revenue and we want to make money, it’s what’s the absolute minimum we can do so that people can still pay their bills.”
Walking downtown and going door-to-door Eaton believes, for the most part, people are in favour.
“People are on board to do whatever it takes to make sure that restaurants can continue to survive.”
Another restaurant owner in downtown Cranbrook, Jesse Roberts, Owner and Operator of Fire Hall Kitchen and Tap, said he’s “very confident” that the community will support the restaurant industry. Roberts believes they will be able to weather the storm with the latest restrictions, as they look to bolster their patio offerings as well as takeout and delivery.
“The next right move always seems to cost money,” laughed Roberts. “I know that ourselves and a lot of the local restaurants, probably all of the local restaurants, have just had to reinvest at every step of the way and it’s not so that we can grow our business, it’s so that we can try to hang on to what smaller amount of business there is out there. We’re almost dizzy from all of the pivoting that we’ve been doing.”
From Fire Hall’s perspective, they are just trying to do everything they can and continue to change to the ongoing pandemic situation as it unfolds.
“We’re just hyper-focused on the things that we can control.”
Looking back on the legislative changes made by the Province, Romich is believing that the Heid Out won’t have to endure another lengthy period of restrictions.
“Hopefully it is only the three weeks and not where it keeps getting extended like it has in the past, that’s really really challenging.”
Eaton is hoping the Province reconsiders the restrictions as well, easing what is enforced in different areas of British Columbia.
“We in the East Kootenay have been incredibly diligent, I think our restaurants have gone above and beyond, it’s not just at Soulfood, we’ve seen the Heid Out, we’ve seen Fire Hall, we’ve seen Hot Shots, a bunch of restaurants adapt and spend tens of thousands of dollars to do so. We should not be painted with the same brush as Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health, we have done much better and I would love to see a regional approach being taken.”
While all three downtown restaurants are ready to pivot yet again to new regulations, the community support already received has been monumental. The Fire Hall noted their huge support Monday evening before the restrictions came into effect at midnight.
“They were so supportive,” Roberts told MyEastKootenayNow.com. “We care a lot about our customers but it almost brought us to tears how evident their care for us was. I know that the rest of the local restaurants will have had the exact same experience, everybody was out in force.”
Romich said they had huge support in just the last 24 hours, holding back tears for what the community has already done – from purchasing gift cards, getting takeout, hearing that people are ready to come to sit at their patio when it’s ready, and more.
“We’ve had people that have stepped up, friends offering patio heaters and so just an amazing, amazing community and I’m so proud.”