New Brunswick

Tighter restrictions force some N.B. restaurants to lay off staff

For many restaurants in the province, lockdown means layoffs.

Shutdown of indoor dining means restaurants are reducing staff to stay afloat

Mike Babineau, co-owner of four restaurants in Fredericton, says he's having to lay off 100 people as the province goes into Level 3 of its winter plan. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

For many restaurants in the province, lockdown means layoffs.

Mike Babineau owns several restaurants in Fredericton, including the Happy Baker, Cora's Breakfast and Lunch and the Diplomat. He said he's laying off 100 employees as New Brunswick's lockdown rules came into effect today, mandating all restaurants move to takeout only.

"It's a very sombre day … to come to the realization … you've got to sit down with 100 employees, and you've got to sit down with … some of these immigrants that have come to Canada expecting to work," he told Information Morning Fredericton Friday. 

"Now I've got to send them home or for who knows how long."

Shawna Foster, the co-owner of MoCo in downtown Fredericton, said she's in the same boat. She said she will keep her permanent staff, but cut their hours in order to pay the bills.

"It's just, it's awful," she told Information Morning Fredericton. "We knew it was coming. It's just hard when it's staring at you in the face."

New Brunswick moved to Level 3 of the COVID-19 winter plan, the most restrictive level, for 16 days. The move came at midnight Friday.

The province is struggling to cope with a strained hospital system. More than 100 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19 and more are expected.

Shawna Foster says she tried to keep most staff on despite a decline in business through the holidays, but she will have have to lay off staff now. (Stephanie Sirois/CBC)

Babineau and Foster said they knew restrictions were coming because they could see a similar pattern in Quebec and Ontario. They also have been struggling with reduced businesses since Omicron came to the fore in November.

"We kept all our employees working through Christmas, even though the business levels weren't there, and tried to do our best to keep them working, " Babineau said.

Premier Blaine Higgs said he's confident 16 days will be enough to get the case numbers and hospitalizations under control, but the restaurant owners are not as confident.

Babineau said he's planning for the lockdown to continue for at least six weeks.

"We're not going to reopen and the clouds are going to part and we're going to have sunny days right away," he said. "We're still going to be in the 50 per cent occupancy [range] and we're still going to have these restrictions on us.… We're in for a really long haul here."

Many local restaurant workers are facing layoffs today, as their employers get set to close their dining rooms. Level 3 restrictions mean it's take-out only. We check in with two Fredericton restaurant owners, Shawna Foster and Mike Babineau.

In an interview with Information Morning Fredericton Friday, Higgs said the 16 days are a "bridge" while health-care workers are isolating because of uncontrollable spread.

What about the $10,000 assistance fund?

When the move to Level 3 was announced, the province also announced an increase to the province's small-business recovery fund to up to $10,000 per business.

Babineau said this is a "drop in the bucket" considering the losses in the last two years and especially over the last holiday season.

"It's definitely welcomed, but we've been losing money for the last several months," he said. "That'll help basically cut our losses from December, but that really doesn't do anything for … the upcoming closure."

Higgs said "no one has a windfall" through this program.

"The idea was trying to mitigate some of the concerns that business owners have and give them … very quick money to help them bridge a gap," he said.

He said the province is looking at the taxes and fees businesses have to pay to see if there's any reduction possible.

Community support continues

Babineau and Foster said their restaurants are still depending on, and benefiting from, community support for their businesses.

Foster said people have already been calling her, saying they will order takeout and support her restaurant.

"I think we just put our heads down and we get the work done and we roll with the punches the best we can," Foster said.

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