Popular North Cape restaurant won't open this year thanks to staffing shortage

A popular destination in North Cape, P.E.I., isn’t opening this summer due to staffing shortages — and they may not be alone.

'If you don't have a cook, you can't operate a restaurant'

'We're still holding out some hope that someone will come forward and operate this season,” says Anne Arsenault of Tignish Initiatives. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

A popular destination in North Cape, P.E.I., isn't opening this summer due to staffing shortages — and they may not be alone.

Anne Arsenault is the general manager and CEO at Tignish Initiatives, the non-profit development corporation that owns the Wind and Reef restaurant. The restaurant is leased to a tenant seasonally to run daily operations.

"If you don't have a cook, you can't operate a restaurant, obviously," said Arsenault. 

"We have beautiful facilities here, but we just don't have the human resources at this point to operate them."

Arsenault said the group thought it had secured tenants to run the restaurant for the 2022 summer season, but they recently backed out. 

The Wind and Reef Restaurant is owned by Tignish Initiatives and leased out to a tenant who runs it each season. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"At the end of the day, it was actually labour shortages," said Arsenault. 

"I believe that that really made the difference because they decided to go a different route, which required less employees. I think they were a little scared away by the fact that they may have some difficulty filling positions."

'We were exhausted all the time'

It's something those who ran the restaurant last year struggled with as well. 

Sandra Arsenault, one of the people who took on the role, said it was impossible to find anyone to work in the kitchen. 

"We advertised for cooks. We offered up to $20 an hour and never even got as much as anyone contacting us or calling us about a position," said Arsenault.

She said that left her and her partner filling that role themselves, coming in at 7 or 8 a.m. every day to prep, then opening the restaurant from noon until 9 p.m. 

Sandra Arsenault says she spent most nearly her entire summer working in the kitchen of the Wind and Reef Restaurant after she was unable to find cooks to hire. (Submitted by Sandra Arsenault)

"We certainly didn't see any of the summer," said Arsenault.

"It was extremely hard. We missed out on lots of fun family things. We went in knowing that we were going to be putting hours in and stuff like that, but we didn't get days off or evenings off or anything. We were always there. We were exhausted all the time."

To keep the doors open last summer, the pair worked non-stop and recruited family and friends to help out — who would come in and work at the restaurant when they finished at their own full-time jobs. 

"It's an issue everywhere," said Arsenault, adding that most businesses in the area are excited for a busy season but unsure whether they'll have the staff to support it. 

"I'm talking to restaurant owners in the area, already this summer they are having major challenges and cutting back hours because they just don't have the staff."

'It is very disappointing'

In an interview with CBC News earlier this week, Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. CEO Corryn Clemence said it's an issue right across the Island.

Prior the to pandemic, she said, tourism operators would face staffing shortages in some areas, like kitchen staff. 

But this year, the staffing shortages appear to be across a wide range of positions — all while P.E.I. is on track to see pre-pandemic travel numbers this season.

"I think we will see operators operating at reduced capacity so you might have a restaurant that seats a hundred, you may only be able to accommodate 60 people," Clemence said.

"I think we're probably leaving revenue on the table if we can't serve these people the way we would traditionally do," she said. "Given that we're starting to come out f the pandemic and our bookings are strong, it's a big challenge for our operators." 

Wind and Reef Restaurant has been a destination at the North Cape Wind Energy Interpretive Centre for years.

It's all part of the North Cape Experience, a marketing initiative aimed at helping show visitors there's lots to see and do in western P.E.I. 

"It is a real hit to us when we lose a very important asset or a restaurant in the area, because folks that travel here look forward to this restaurant and many come year after year," said Anne Arsenault. 

"It is very disappointing, but we're still holding out some hope that someone will come forward and operate this season."