Nova Scotia

How Nova Scotia restaurants stepped up to feed people after Fiona

When post-tropical storm Fiona forced Mark Gabriou's Antigonish, N.S., restaurant to close for a few days, he decided his food wouldn't go to waste — it would help feed the community.

Gabrieau's Bistro in Antigonish made soup, sandwiches for hundreds of people

Chef Mark Gabrieau runs Gabrieau's Bistro with his partner Karen in Antigonish, N.S. (Paul Withers)

When post-tropical storm Fiona forced Mark Gabrieau's Antigonish, N.S., restaurant to close for a few days, he decided his food wouldn't go to waste — it would help feed the community.

"We basically took everything that we could make soup out of and just started to go at it," Gabrieau told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Monday. "We probably started off with about 400 litres."

Thanks to a team of volunteers, the business was able to offer lunch to 375 people the first day. They had a menu of beef stew and sandwiches, and also served a roast pork dinner in the evening.

Gabrieau contacted the Town of Antigonish, which had a list of community members, many of whom are elderly, in need of a hot meal.

Listen to Mark Gabrieau's full interview here:

We've been hearing stories of communities coming together to look out for the most vulnerable in Fiona's aftermath. Mark Gabrieau, who co-owns Gabrieau's Bistro in Antigonish, talks about his community's efforts to provide food for those in need

"We had a lot of support from the community as far as volunteers for the delivery of the product and also volunteers for making the sandwiches," he said. "We had students from St. FX come in and do that part of it."

Gabrieau's Bistro has a generator to keep the kitchen running even without power, but after the storm hit on Sept. 23, the business also lost internet. It meant there was no way for customers to pay, so the restaurant closed for a time, amounting to about $15,000 in losses.

Many restaurants were hit hard by the post-tropical storm that knocked out power to a majority of Nova Scotia Power customers. More than 20,000 customers were still waiting for the lights to come back on Monday afternoon, 10 days after the storm. 

But many, like Gabrieau's Bistro, used the crisis as an opportunity to help others.

"People [that] have propane but no power were actually cooking food in the dark with flashlights, and a lot of restaurants were sharing big walk-in coolers with other restaurants to help store some of their food," said Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia. 

Gordon Stewart is executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Stewart said food spoilage was a major issue after the storm, especially for larger restaurants that have more inventory in stock. The food that couldn't be eaten quickly or donated to people in need had to be thrown away, he said. 

The storm also hit at an especially stressful time for restaurant owners who are dealing with severe staff shortages, said Stewart.

Listen to Gordon Stewart's full interview here:

The restaurant industry has been plagued by misfortune during the pandemic. Now with Fiona, restaurants have suffered huge losses during widespread power outages. We hear from Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia.

"The next thing, of course, is you have to pay people because you don't want to lose them but you have no income ... because the staffing issues are so challenging and so difficult that people really don't have much of a choice," he said. 

A little extra help

To help organize the effort in Antigonish, Gabrieau's Bistro teamed up with a non-profit called World Central Kitchen that provides meals in the wake of natural disasters.

Gabrieau said chefs came to Nova Scotia from Vancouver and Toronto to lend a hand.

His restaurant now has power and has been able to re-open, even though internet access is still spotty.

"When anything like this happens, our community just mobilizes and, you know, they do what needs to be done and people volunteer, they provide product, they donate whatever's available," Gabrieau said. "It's just second nature here."

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning

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