British Columbia

This Kamloops restaurateur is closing his business for a week to give his staff a mental-health break

All staff at both Senor Froggy locations will be paid to rest and recharge for seven days beginning Sept. 13.

Rob Stodola says all staff at both Senor Froggy locations will be paid to rest and recharge

Rob Stodola owns Senor Froggy, a Kamloops Mexican restaurant with two locations that employs around 40 people. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC News)

It goes without saying it's a tough time to be working in the service industry — and it's led one British Columbia restaurateur to decide that it's time to pack it in and send his staff home.

But not for good.

After watching his staff work under stressful pandemic conditions since spring 2020, Senor Froggy owner Rob Stodola is giving them a week off with pay to rest and recharge, starting Sept. 13.

"Let's be real, this year's been rough," said Stodola, whose well known Mexican establishments in Kamloops, B.C., have been serving customers since the early 1980s.

"We are not making normal business decisions."

Jennifer McEwen, who manages a Senor Froggy location, says having a paid week off is huge after being laid off from a previous job in 2020, taking care of young children during a pandemic, and then working in the food industry with regularly changing protocols. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC News)

Stodola said it's not just COVID-19 that's contributed to unprecedented stress levels for himself and his staff, but also the recent discovery of remains at the city's former residential school, this summer's deadly heat wave and yet another harrowing wildfire season in the B.C. Interior.

Calling it a "hot, stressful roller coaster of a summer," Stodola says his hard-working employees deserve a cooling down period.

"Without people, without staff, we can't operate — and they've been amazing," he said.

The two Senor Froggy locations employ around 40 people.

Jennifer McEwen, manager of the Senor Froggy restaurant in the city's north shore, says having a full week off paid is huge. 

McEwen was laid off from a retail job in 2020 and says this feels like the first time an employer has truly supported her.

McEwen and Stodola work in the kitchen in the north shore location of Senor Froggy, which will close on Sept. 13 for seven days. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC News)

"I have never felt more like a part of a whole, a part of a unit, like someone who is cared about and treated well as I do here," she said.

McEwen sees the welcome break not as a sign of weakness, but as a reward for staff's strength and adaptability as they navigated regularly changing industry protocols.

"We are not closing because we can't handle it, we are closing because we have handled it," she said.

Senor Froggy employee ‎Kimberlee Bryson says having time off to rest and recharge with pay is invaluable. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC News)
 Kimberlee Bryson has been working for Stodola while her firefighting son has been battling blazes and her daughter has been working in health care doing hospital cleaning due to COVID-19.

It's been a stressful ride for the whole family.

Knowing she has an opportunity to regroup with pay feels like a priceless gift to her at this time.

"You can't put a value on that," said Bryson.

Both Senor Froggy locations will reopen Sept. 21.

With files from Daybreak Kamloops and Jenifer Norwell

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