Why open a restaurant during a pandemic? Two Edmonton owners explain

For brand new establishments, trying to get a foothold in the food delivery business is challenging — but not impossible.

‘I couldn't just sit and let the space not be used’

Jesse Gado works in the kitchen of Rosewood Foods, which opened on April 18 in downtown Edmonton. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

When Wally Baalbaki opened the first Canadian location of the American chain Wing Snob in Edmonton's Brewery District, COVID-19 had not yet forced Edmontonians indoors. 

The restaurant operator decided to open with little fanfare on March 8, figuring a soft launch would allow staff time to get settled.

The opposite ensued.

Less than two weeks later, all restaurants were ordered to close because of the pandemic.

Instead of greeting new customers, restaurant staff frantically researched food safety guidelines, set up an online ordering system and looked into delivery options. 

The new reality was like "living in a dark comedy," Baalbaki told CBC's Adrienne Pan.

"We literally couldn't have picked a worse time to launch." 

New establishments like Baalbaki's have to compete with the more than 350 Edmonton restaurants already offering pickup or delivery.

Though trying to get a foothold in the food delivery business is challenging, owners say it's still possible.

Wally Baalbaki opened his Wing Snob franchise less than two weeks before restaurants were ordered to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Wally Baalbaki)

Jesse Gado and his wife, Angela Chau-Gado, spent the past 10 months planning the opening of their first restaurant, Rosewood Foods. 

As the pandemic worsened last month, they contemplated whether or not to open at all, but decided to push forward.

The pair secured a permit remotely and opened the restaurant on April 18.

"I couldn't just sit and let the space not be used," Gado said Wednesday in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

Anyone walking by the place, at the corner of 100th Street and Rice Howard Way, would not be able to tell that behind the papered windows is a bustling kitchen.

There is no sign on the door, no paper menus inside.

Noah, left, and Jesse Gado work in the Rosewood Foods kitchen. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

Gado said they planned to hire staff but decided that did not make financial sense, so for now the couple runs the restaurant themselves, with help from Gado's brother Noah.

First the family delivered pastry boxes and soups in the evenings, spending hours making deliveries across the city. 

Now salads, soups and sandwiches — all items from the restaurant's menu that travel well — are available for pickup.

"To have to open by yourself is a little underwhelming," he said. "But on a positive note, it was very gratifying seeing everybody's smiling faces and be able to supply them with something delicious."

It wasn't the opening anyone planned, but the modest start, fulfilling orders for about 40 people per day, is working for now.

Despite the pandemic, Gado said he is optimistic about the future of Rosewood Foods.

"I'm going to be here doing my best every single day until this is over," he said.

With files from Adrienne Pan