Mom and pop businesses struggle to hang on as economy sets to reopen
CALGARY -- La Brezza Ristorante in Bridgeland is just one of many Calgary businesses hoping to survive the financial hit during the pandemic.
This isn’t the first obstacle owner Filomena Abdi has had to overcome. Her husband Marco was the face of the restaurant for 28 years before he suddenly passed away from cancer in 2015.
"I had one week off and I was here learning the business which I never ran in my life," said Abdi.
Now, Abdi has to fight to save the restaurant during the pandemic. For the safety of her staff and because customers were no longer coming in, she closed the doors on March 18.
"After cleaning out all our fridges, I gave the extra food to my staff and I just got rid of all our inventory and I went downstairs and cried for a good hour because it was so sad. It seemed so surreal to me."
Abdi qualified for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and was offered a deferral on her property taxes and loans but even that wasn’t enough to ensure the survival of the restaurant as there were other bills that still needed to be paid.
She kept the doors closed for as long as she could but had no choice and reopened again for take-out service on April 21.
However, the operational side looks a bit different this time around. Abdi runs the front of house at La Brezza while her 74-year-old mother Angelina Buonincontri volunteered to do all the cooking.
"It’s a little bit more, but that’s okay. I enjoy myself," said Buonincontri, while she effortlessly cooks up spaghetti and meatballs.
"She needed help because money (is not) coming. Bills are coming but no money coming."
Buonincontri says when times are tough, family can always be counted on.
"That’s what I do for my children. All of them, not just her."
Abdi says she wanted to bring in staff and pay them through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) but says it wouldn’t be possible because they are receiving financial help through CERB and can’t collect through both programs. Therefore, it would’ve been a complete out-of pocket expense to pay for their wages, something she can’t afford at this time.
They are concerned how long they can keep the business going this way. Abdi says she is worried about her elderly mother’s health and they are both burning out the longer this situation lasts.
However, despite the challenges and possibly more ahead, Abdi isn’t letting the stress and pressure weigh her down.
"I’m going to do everything I can to keep it open. I’m a fighter my friends call me 'the warrior.'"
When restaurants in the province are able to reopen again on May 14, Abdi says she will continue to offer take out, however, will wait a couple weeks to open up the restaurant at half capacity on the weekends. A date for a full reopening will be decided in the near future.