British Columbia

More Vancouver restaurants announce closures from pandemic pressure

For many restaurants in B.C., the cumulative pressures of the pandemic have become unsustainable and, after nearly two years of hanging on, some are choosing to close. 

Industry association says thousands of restaurants across the province will close during the pandemic

The Whip in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood is one of the latest restaurants to announce its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

For many restaurants in B.C., the cumulative pressures of the pandemic have become unsustainable and, after nearly two years of hanging on, some are choosing to close. 

One of the latest to announce its closure is The Whip, in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. For more than 25 years, the restaurant has offered an international beer list and North American comfort foods like burgers and poutine.

Cody Allmin, who grew up in the neighbourhood, took over The Whip in 2019 and had hoped to keep its legacy going, but the pandemic changed what was a passion into drawn-out uncertainty about the business's survival.

"The big thing that has changed for us is instead of it being stuff that we are excited to do, stuff that we were passionate about, we're now just trying to survive," he said.

'Mental gymnastics'

Allmin, like other owners electing to shutter eateries, says a decrease in customers, labour shortages, supply chain issues and provincial health orders all contributed to the restaurant's demise. 

"It's been tiring, just trying to continually evolve, and these mental gymnastics of keeping up with what's happening," said Allmin.

Diners are pictured eating at Yolks restaurant in Vancouver on May 25, 2021. Yolks has not announced it is closing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Dec. 20 new provincial health orders came into effect with the goal of slowing the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Diners are required to remain at their tables and not mix or mingle with other parties. No standing or dancing is allowed and masks are required when patrons are not seated.

Those within the industry said at the time that the new restrictions came as many establishments were gearing up for a busy few weeks over the holidays.

Ian Tostensen with the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association said the new year is bringing unrelenting challenges for restaurants, bars and eateries. 

Bishop's in Vancouver had operated since 1985. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

According to the Government of Canada there are more than 10,000 full-service restaurants and limited-service eating places in B.C.. Tostensen expects thousands of them to close before the pandemic is resolved.

"We're under a labour shortage right now, the owners have been putting in a lot of extra time, and they're exhausted," he said. "I think everyone dreams of having a business to pass on through the generations. And in many cases it's not their fault, it's the circumstances around it." 

In the past week, Vancouver's Café Deux Soleils, Storm Crow Alehouse and Bishop's, a restaurant that has been a staple in the Kitsilano neigbourhood for more than 35 years, all announced they were closing or for sale. 

John Bishop, 75, said for the first time in the three decades since he opened his restaurant he's been losing sleep over paying his bills.

"With the help of our staff and customers, we made it through the worst of the pandemic, but a hefty rent increase, particularly these days, made it impossible to think about continuing," he said in a release about the closure. 

He said his hardship is one the whole industry is facing and he hopes that in announcing his closure that the industry will look for solutions.

'Sad to see'

Jean-Francis Quaglia, chef and owner of Provence Marinaside in Vancouver's Yaletown neighbourhood, said losing an establishment like Bishop's is a blow.

"It's always sad to see a restaurant closing, especially Bishop's, that has been around for a long time, and has been a mentor for a lot of chefs in town," he said.

In December the province announced that businesses such as restaurants affected by the latest pandemic restrictions will be eligible to apply for relief grants up to $10,000.

Tostensen said even with the subsidy program many owners can't keep up with the rising costs of labour, food and rent. 

"Some restaurants are just at the end of their rope," he said. "They got to this stage because they had rent and subsidies for wages but those are over now."

Allmin says although The Whip is closing, the space will reopen under a new name and with a new menu in the coming months. 

with files from Janella Hamilton

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