British Columbia

Small restaurants say they won't survive reopening without government help

Some owners say the quick approval of patio space to create more seating and the extension of federal subsidies for wages and rent will be key.

Quick approval of patio applications, extending federal subsidies for wages and rent will be key, owners say

Miki Ellis, co-owner of Dachi Vancouver, stands at the door of her restaurant which has now turned to a take-out pick-up window. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Some small restaurant owners in Metro Vancouver say they won't survive the industry's permitted reopening without government assistance.

With reopening plans expected to require restaurants to limit their capacity, owners say they need other ways to cover costs such as the approval of additional patio seating, wage subsidies and rent relief.

"We wouldn't be able to survive off of 25 or less people in here," said Miki Ellis, the co-owner of Dachi Restaurant.

Her cosy East Vancouver eatery normally seats only about 45 people.

The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association's proposed plan to WorkSafeBC suggests 50 per cent capacity or two metres between guest tables.

While the latter recommendation might work well for larger restaurants, Ellis says it would be devastating for a place like hers which has very limited floor space.

In order to reopen, Ellis says she needs to turn the parking lot outside Dachi into a patio in the evenings to maximize her floor space. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Just outside her front door is a parking lot that can fit at least nine vehicles which she hopes can be converted to a patio to expand the number of customers she'd be able to serve.

"This patio will likely be ... the decider, of if we are able to make or break it," says said about her one-year-old restaurant.

She's applied to the City of Vancouver for a permit but typically the process for restaurant patios is cumbersome and can sometimes require months for approval.

Ellis says the government's quick responses so far to the pandemic have left her hopeful her application might come into fruition soon.

With many other restaurant owners voicing similar concerns, the BCRFA has been lobbying for the fast-tracking of permits.

Government subsidies

Paul Grunberg, co-owner of Caffe La Tana, Pepino's and Savio Volpe, says he's pivoted to do what he can to survive but he and his industry colleagues will need assistance.

His tiny 20-seat café will no longer serve food because it's "not going to make [business] sense." Instead he's transitioned to becoming a specialty grocer.

The "extremely critical" piece to reopening will be an extension of the federal government's wage subsidy and rent relief programs, says Grunberg.

The wage subsidy program covers 75 per cent of an employee's pay, up to $847 for 12 weeks.

Paul Grunberg, owner of Caffé La Tana, says the breakfast and lunch spot will stop serving food and transition into a specialty grocery. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

He's had to lay off 130 of his employees.

Under the current take-out and delivery model, plus government wage subsidies, he's brought back about 30 of his staff at full salaries.

But the mandated reduction in capacity will mean he won't be able to hire everyone back.

"The wage subsidy is huge," he says. "Even if it went down to a 50 per cent subsidy and it's extended to August or September that would be able to give most small businesses the springboard to bounce back."

The government has extended the program thus far past the June 6 deadline, promising more details later this week.

In Richmond, third-generation restaurateur Raymond Wu is feeling skeptical about reopening altogether.

"For me, it's still too early," said the owner of Memory Corner.

Raymond Wu, owner of Memory Corner Taiwanese Restaurant, says safety is key when considering the reopening. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Between the reduced capacity, limiting income, and the potential health risk from not yet having a vaccine for COVID-19, he's debating whether he'll open his doors for more than take-out and delivery.

But, he says, if he does decide to try it out, the government assistance will be important.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

About the Author

Lien Yeung

@LienYeung

Lien Yeung is a host and reporter with CBC Vancouver News. She has covered stories locally and nationally from Halifax to Victoria on television, radio and online. Find her on Instagram or Twitter @LienYeung or via email at lien.yeung@cbc.ca.

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