'It's gut wrenching': Calgary food service industry anxious about resuming operations amid layoffs, closures
CALGARY -- Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new wage subsidy benefit to assist bars and restaurants among other businesses during the pandemic, Calgary restaurant groups say more needs to be done.
The announcement came on March 30, while a report from Restaurants Canada says 95,000 food service workers have been laid off since March 1.
“(The) government (is) trying, but it’s too slow. We need help now,” said Lance Hurtubise, president of Vintage Group of restaurants in a video posted to Instagram.
It’s part of a social media campaign called #OneTable, sharing the concerns of the restaurant industry across Canada.
Too little, too late?
Others in the video say government response, such as the wage subsidy, may be too little too late for some.
According to the Government of Canada website, the benefit would “cover 75 per cent of salaries for qualifying businesses, for up to 3 months, retroactive to March 15.”
Restaurants Canada says some of its smaller members can’t come up with the other 25 per cent to sustain the payroll while the doors are closed and revenue is zero.
Mark von Schellwitz, vice president for western Canada says rent and tax deferrals are also inadequately responding to the needs of restaurants.
“Sooner or later we’re going to have to pay all this money back and we’re already a pretty low-margin, highly-leveraged industry," Von Schellwitz.
He says the food service industry is the third largest private sector in Alberta.
Modern Steak restaurant on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue has shifted focus to delivery.
“I’m flipping burgers now,” said Dustin Schafer, the corporate chef for the restaurant has shifted roles in this new reality.
“(I am) having a lot of fun with it, but my first job was at Pizza Hut, and here I am 17 years later.”
Schafer says there’s been a small bright side since laying off the dining room staff.
“We’re trying to bring in some sort of income to pay the rent, pay our staff and the bills that follow.”
He’s concerned that there will be thousands of unemployed food service workers that won’t be able to come back into the fold, if restaurants remain permanently closed after the threat of the pandemic ends.
“It’s gut wrenching.”
The former sous chef for Vintage Chophouse is also concerned about how Canadian restaurants may rebound, if possible.
“Looming over my head is this horrible unknown that we just don’t know what the industry is going to look like and what the environment is going to look like when this does kind of return to some sense or normalcy,” said Brendan Bohan.
He continues to cook from home after being laid off in March.