Some Toronto restaurateurs get rent relief amid COVID-19, while others stress over April bills
Many eateries being forced to shut down as cases spread across Canada
Grace An nearly cried after the landlord for her downtown Toronto restaurant called with a compromise: pay half the roughly $5,000 rent in April and May, and pay back the other half over time when business, hopefully, returns to normal.
"This will stretch it out for me to not file for bankruptcy in like a month or two, or not make me empty my own savings to keep the business," she said.
Some small and large landlords are extending help for their restaurateur tenants, many of which have been forced to shut down as COVID-19 cases spread across Canada. But not all eatery owners have been so lucky and those without landlord support want more government intervention to avoid mass closures due to unpayable bills.
An, who has owned Buna's Kitchen for more than six years, noticed business slowing at the start of February. Her eatery mostly serves business people from nearby office buildings and is only open for lunch on weekdays.
As offices shifted to work-from-home setups, walk-in traffic slowed. An switched to take-out only, but those orders dried up too. Last Tuesday, she decided to close completely.
But April edged closer and so did her the due date for thousands in rent. An emailed her landlord to let them know she could cover next month's rent, but after that? Unclear.
"I was hoping for their understanding to whatever that's going to happen in the future."
About a week passed. Then, the phone rang.
The landlord offered some flexibility. They asked for half of April and May rent when those are due, and the remainder to be paid back later on by tacking an extra couple hundred to future monthly rents.
An declined to provide the name of her landlord, who she said declined a request for comment for the story when she asked.
"I just hope, maybe, this can encourage other landlords to be kind," she said, especially to small restaurant tenants.
Some restaurant owners receiving reprieves
Some other restaurant owners received similar reprieves in the days leading up to April 1.
First Capital REIT announced a $30-million program to help its qualifying small business tenants defer some or all of their rent for the next two months. The company's portfolio includes many restaurants.
"Small businesses play such an important role in the thriving neighbourhoods in which we invest," said CEO Adam Paul in a statement. "Many of these businesses are also among the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic."
The program aims to help them "in this very difficult time," he said. First Capital did not immediately respond to questions.
Walmart Canada took the matter a step further and forgave the next two months of rent payments to its tenants, which include hair salons and eateries. The company has more than 400 stores in the country with about one to two tenants each.
"I think we know that we're in extraordinary times right now," said Robert Nicol, vice-president of corporate affairs.
But these acts are limited and not all restaurants received the same reprieve as April nears.