Coronavirus: Amid record job losses, Nova Scotia restaurant owners innovate

An estimated 24,500 Nova Scotians have lost their food service industry jobs due to the outbreak of COVID-19, according to a new survey published by Restaurants Canada.

It paints a grim picture of the sector’s future in the province: four out of five restaurants have laid off staff since March 1, roughly one in 10 have closed their doors forever, and another 18 per cent will go under within a month if current conditions continue.

“We’re the number three private-sector employer in Nova Scotia and we need help,” said Luc Erjavec, vice-president of Restaurants Canada in the Atlantic.

“While we really appreciate the work done today by the federal and provincial governments, there’s more to be done.”

But in the midst of plummeting revenue, laid-off workers and mounting bills, some Nova Scotia restaurant owners are choosing to weather the storm by changing up their business models.

The Tart and Soul Cafe in Halifax, for example, has created a new online shop, and for the very first time, is offering meals and baked goods for pickup and delivery.

“A lot of the things we’re doing now are things we’ve talked about doing, discussed or brainstormed doing, but never took the time to implement,” said cafe co-owner Safia Haq.

“It’s a lot to deal with a whole new method of making stuff and delivering it. We’re not usually an online situation, and now we are, so — learning curve, definitely.”

Jennie Dobbs, owner of the Morris East pizzerias, said her team is coming up with an expanded menu and offering delivery service for the first time.

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“I think the more and more we go on, that the restaurants are going to get really creative with what they’re offering for takeout and delivery,” Dobbs told Global News. “I know we’re working on ‘Morris Easter’ — we’re not quite sure what it is yet, but it’s going to be pizza and mini eggs in some sort of dessert form.”

For governments, Erjavec said rent relief options must continue and access to capital, including grants, must be made available to small and medium business owners.

“Our money has been depleted, we still have lots of bills to pay and simply moving them forward to another day is not going to solve the problem,” he explained.

“We can’t expect someone to pay double or triple rent a few months’ from now, plus all their taxes and workers’ compensation.”

Nova Scotia’s food service industry is worth roughly $2.1 billion annually, amounting to 4.6 per cent of the province’s GDP, according to restaurants Canada.

Without a spike in sales or support for shop owners trying to pay their bills, the association estimates the sector’s sales will drop more than $440 million for the second quarter of 2020.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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