How some P.E.I. restaurants are benefiting from P.E.I.'s new school food program
14 vendors have contracts to provide thousands of hot lunches to P.E.I. schools daily
Ship to Shore restaurant in Darnley, P.E.I., normally closes its kitchen for the season at the end of September — but this fall, the kitchen is instead going full tilt, delivering hot meals for P.E.I.'s new healthy school food program.
P.E.I.'s Department of Education announced the program in mid-July, after pilot projects in half a dozen schools last winter. It allows parents to pay what they can up to $5 per meal, and is available to all Island schools from kindergarten to Grade 12 as well as alternate education sites.
And a key component: the 14 vendors are all local.
"It's going to take in, definitely, some more revenue," said Coreen Pickering, owner and manager at Ship to Shore. She and her husband purchased the business in 2019.
The restaurant's business was down 50 per cent this summer over last summer, Pickering said. She also had contracts for the restaurant to be a primary caterer for a couple of other local tourist businesses, but when COVID-19 hit, those contracts were cancelled.
Pickering said the slow business wasn't completely negative. She said locals, who had previously driven by when they saw the parking lot was full, stopped and ate there this season.
"I told the staff just relax and enjoy and get to know these people," she said. They also hired a baker, and sold more baked goods directly to customers.
'Positive at the end of the day'
However, bidding on and landing the contract to supply hot, healthy meals to students at Greenfield Elementary and Athena Consolidated has been "great," Pickering said.
"I feel like the revenue that we lost, like the 50 per cent, we might be able to get some of that back. Instead of doing it over four months, we'll do it over 12 months, but it's still positive at the end of the day," she said.
The biggest boon is being able to hire their chef full-time and not risk losing him over the winter, Pickering said.
"Because it is a learning curve right now, I don't know what profit it's going to be," she added, noting the province pays vendors $5 per meal. She has been creating about 1,300 meals daily for the program.
Demand for the program has been double what the province expected, with more than 10,000 students signing up for the meals as school began in September.
Pickering is also a parent with a student in Grade 2, and she loves the healthy lunch program from that perspective.
"I think it's brilliant," she said. "I think there's too much processed food out there for kids at their beck and call ... I think it's affecting their health, physically and mentally."
Duke Cormier is a vendor for 14 schools, eight of them in West Prince. He owns Greco Pizza in Bloomfield and is also a co-owner of the 511West restaurant in Summerside.
He says business was down 70 per cent this summer at 511West, which is a full-service restaurant, but down only about 10 per cent at Greco, which is quick-serve.
Cormier said winning the contract for the program wasn't paramount for his business, but he is happy to be part of it. He's personally delivering meals to five schools every day and has even invested about $10,000 in equipment to keep the lunches hot.
It might be more business, he said, but the $5 per lunch creates a "tight margin."
Like Pickering, Cormier said he is pleased to be able to provide students with healthy foods they may not have tried before.