Tough times on tap for local establishments

WELLINGTON COUNTY – As the province enacted the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act as a measure to restrict social gatherings in response to the coronavirus, restaurants, pubs and cafes had to decide if they could offer limited take-out and delivery options.

Rachel Bingham, manager of Wreckless Eric Eclectic Café Elora, made the difficult decision to close the popular establishment, including its take-out menu, early on March 17 due to the need to ensure customer safety.

“The space of our café is an issue,” Bingham said, noting the small size of the restaurant. “With the need for social distancing, we don’t have space to hold too many customers at a time.”

Earlier in the week, Bingham had planned to offer customers a take-out option to keep the business operating, but the two provincial and federal announcements changed her decision.

“Things are changing so fast with all of this,” Bingham said, of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, Bingham hopes to have the café re-opened by April 1.

“We’re doing our best to ensure the health and safety of everyone – our customers and staff,” she said.

“While we are closed we’re going to do a thorough cleaning of the café. We’re looking forward to seeing everybody back here in April.”

Other restaurants in town and across the county are finding a balance that allows them to maintain a take-out-only menu with limited hours.

The Elora Brewing Company (EBC) is facing an extra challenge, with the temporary closure of the restaurant and the sudden impact on its brewery distribution business.

Jonathan Laurencic, one of the founders of EBC and the director of operations, expressed concern about the impact the closure would have on the approximately 30 front-line servers and kitchen staff, though at this point he is not anticipating lay-offs.

“We’ve had to cancel all of our server shifts … I was hoping for more perspective from the government that there will be more dynamic and quick EI available to staff. As soon as we have the information, we can instruct our staff from there,” Laurencic said.

He hasn’t yet decided when the restaurant will re-open.

“We’re not putting a date on it yet because the situation is so fluid, so we want to wait to see how the days and weeks unfold,” Laurencic said.

The brewery distribution side is another issue for EBC’s revenue, but Laurencic plans to continue with sales both through the restaurant’s retail shop and its online store.

“With bars and restaurants closing, that is a large volume of our business,” Laurencic said. “We’re hoping to boost our online sales.”

To support that incentive, home delivery will be an option during this COVID-19 shutdown.

“We’re offering home delivery to Elora, Fergus, Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph on all orders over $40,” Laurencic said.

“Our intention is to keep the engine warm as long as we can. We know at some point we’ll be able to open our doors. But for now, we’re taking the safety of our staff and customers seriously. As soon as we’re able to open again, we want to be ready.”

Lisa McCormack, manager of Harry Stone’s Social House in Harriston, said she’s taking it day-by-day.

“We did take-out today, but I don’t know what we’re going to do long-term,” she said in a phone interview. “We’re going day by day – hour by hour really.”

She said there are about 20 staff at the restaurant and their futures are now uncertain.

“I don’t know what’s worse, the health impact or the financial impact of COVID-19,” she said.