Restaurants, facing tough times, remain engaged

Barry Coulter

With lockdown and self-isolation now the norm, the importance of restaurants in the community have become more apparent and more prominent.

They’ve become more than just “saving the dishes,” or a place to celebrate. Restaurants are working to help keep the community fed, and at the same time, as businesses, restaurants are dealing with the some pretty tough times with the economy hit so hard.

“We are in unprecedented times,” said Mebs Sorathia, who runs Wendy’s in Cranbrook. “With the restrictions placed by the provincial government to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic, we at Wendy’s are operating the drive-thru only. This has resulted in lower sales.

“We discussed options with our team on how to control costs. We agreed to not layoff anyone but reduced the hours of all the staff slightly. This allowed all our team members to earn an income during this difficult time.”

Sorathia added that it is a stressful time for all Wendy’s team members, particularly those who are international students studying at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook.

“They are concerned about the next steps,” Sorathia said. “With travel restrictions, those who were planning to return to their home country are not sure when this will happen. We decided not to layoff any of our team members and decided to offer all our team members free meals. They were very thankful.”

In downtown Cranbrook, the Heid-Out Brewhouse and Restaurant has also changed up the way it does things. shutting down all dine-in operations (as of March 20), and shifting to take-out and delivery only. All summer catering were cancelled.

As a result, the Heid-Out has had to lay off about two thirds of its employees.

“It certainly has been a stressful time with many worried about their health, the health of their family members, the health of the business, the health of the economy and the health of the entire world,” said Heidi Romich, owner of the Heid-Out. “Many of our laid-off staff are missing the social interaction with their co-workers. “[Some] are going stir crazy at home and a few are very content to have some extra time at home. We are one big family bubble and the staff are conscious about their contacts outside of work as well wanting to keep everyone safe.

The Heid-Out’s implementation of safety measures has given the staff a confidence to still be on the front line. These measures include plexiglass at the bar, use of gloves, social distancing markers, for take-out customers, and “sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.”

The Heid-Out pared down its hot food menu to be able handle the food orders in a timely manner with less staff, and added frozen gourmet meals. It can now able to provide beer and wine sales for both take out and delivery with the temporary relaxed provincial guidelines.

“At Wendy’s we already had strong cleaning procedures,” Sorathia said. “With Covid-19 we have enhanced the procedures with more frequent hand washing, asking team members how they are feeling before they begin their shifts and cleaning all surface area more frequently.

Restaurants have been hit hard by affected supply lines , particularly recently, with the closure of the meat processing plant in High River, Alberta. For Wendy’s, this resulted in a limited supply of fresh beef burgers.

“Most of our customers understand the matter, and choose from Wendy’s Chicken sandwiches and fresh salad offerings,” Sorathia said. He added that the High River plant re-opened last week, and normal supply is expected to resume soon.

The Heid-Out is also dealing with reduced stocks. Romich said that protein prices have increased up to 70 per cent, and vegetable prices have skyrocketed. Not only that, but food containers are now in short supply, and suppliers have restricted ordering, so there is no ability to “stock up.”

“Every week is an unknown at this point,” Romich said.

The restaurants’ focus is on the community, and the restaurateurs themselves are grateful for the support of their customers and the efforts on the front line workers during this time.

“Our customers are great!” Sorathia said. “They are understanding and kind. We greatly appreciate the support from all our customers during this challenging time and we look forward to continuing to serve them fresh offerings at Wendy’s.

“And we sincerely thank and applaud all the front line workers in Cranbrook and the surrounding area. We also sincerely thank the residents of Cranbrook and the surrounding area for following the provincial guideline. At Wendy’s, we are offering First Responders 50 per cent off their meals.”

Romich said that despite all the stress the pandemic has brought, it has been a rewarding and eye-opening time.

“We have delivered food everyday to shut in seniors who have been so grateful, immune compromised folks, and many that were under self-isolation — all of whom could not go out to the grocery store. We have also served take out and delivery to people that are tired of cooking at home and we have provided them with both fresh hot food and gourmet frozen meals. Many of our regulars order their favorite dishes from before the lockdown providing a small level of comfort. “Through this, so many people in our community are suffering so we have been regularly donating meals to help the Salvation Army as well as cookies for the children program.”

“We sincerely thank all our customers for their support of Wendy’s,” Sorathia said, “and we pray for the wellness and safety of all the residents in Cranbrook and the surrounding area.”

“[Brewmaster Jordon Aasland] and I would add how incredibly grateful we are to the community,” Romich said. “Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down and everyone is trying to have some semblance of normality in this scary, uncertain time. We all feel so lucky to live in Cranbrook in so many ways!”

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