Earlier this week Etobicoke based restaurant, Adamson Barbecue decided to willingly violate provincial and municipal laws put in place due to the resurgence of COVID-19 by offering indoor dining. The move came as a challenge to local and provincial health authorities, that not only challenged their power, but also the science behind their decision making. While Adamson Barbecue debacle has been brewing — leading to the arrest of its owner — restaurateur Sameer Vahidy is trending in the opposite direction by trying to collaborate with other kitchens and shops as they’ve been forced to shutter their doors for another lockdown.
“Everyone has the entitlement to their own opinions, but we understand what our country, our world is dealing with at this moment. To put our patrons, to put our employees at risk it just doesn’t make sense for us, we really want to focus on an opportunities to sustain ourselves,” said Vahidy.
Vahidy, the owner of Meat & Pie Co. located on Toronto’s King Street West is a foil of Adamson Barbecue’s owner Adam Skelly. While Vahidy has learned to understand and modify his business according to restrictions relating to COVID-19, Skelly has been intent on protesting and effectively put the wellbeing of his staff and customers at risk during the pandemic. On Tuesday night, Vahidy took to Meat & Pie Co.’s Instagram page to send a message that he was on the side of health officials and respected their decision to enforce a lockdown resulting in his business to close their dining space.
“We really wanted to put a message out to our followers, let them know that we are making it despite what’s happening. There’s been changes in operations, the food, partnering up with other restaurants throughout Toronto, there’s a lot of opportunities to continue being successful at what you’re doing,” he said.
When he put the message, Vahidy received a lot of positive feedback from his contemporaries, who said they stand with him to ensure that their businesses are operating in a safe manner.
“We’ve gotten a lot of messages from business owners across the GTA, restaurants, food distribution, to thank us for putting this message out there. They’re saying they’re all in line with our statement and it’s been almost all positive coming back,” he said.
‘Buddy...you need to shut down,’ Premier Ford urged Adamson
Lately, there has been a rise of dissent for medical professionals, especially among those who attended Adamson's revolt opening. But, even the Premier Doug Ford himself, who struck an empathetic tone about the plight of small businesses earlier this week, was stern after seeing Adamson’s persistence to push the rules.
“People are getting edgy out there,” the premier said. “I was nice to the guy yesterday, but buddy, let me tell you something — you need to shut down. You’re putting people’s lives in jeopardy.”
Ford talked about how it was ultimately up to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams to make the decision to place certain areas of the province in the red zone or in lockdowns. In that case, Vahidy maintains that supporting medical health officers who are making tough calls is the right thing to do.
“We have to support the decisions of lawmakers, on the provincial and municipal side,” said Vahidy.
While his business has experienced a hit to its bottom line, Vahidy is grateful to be open and operating, even if it means just being able to pay his staff and earn small profits. As the science around COVID-19 continues to develop resulting in varied communication from all levels of government, Vahidy knows that ensuring proper health and safety protocols is what’s not only needed, but what is right.
“We’re in this together and there’s clear guidelines that have been given to us by the federal, provincial and municipal levels and we’re implementing them. It’s for the betterment of our staff, our management and our customers,” he said.
Meat & Pie Co. used COVID-19 as an advantage for small businesses
While businesses are struggling and it's looking grim for many, Vahidy is looking at COVID-19 as the ultimate learning lesson when it comes to running a restaurant or any business for that matter.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride, from closing down completely to reopening to going back to takeouts and deliveries — there’s been a lot of learning. Things that would take decades to learn, finding new solutions, it’s put everyone on the spot and there’s been innovation,” he said.
In February, he launched Sam’s Ribs and Hot Chicken in Scarborough, but just one month after the grand opening, the Ontario government put businesses into lockdown which flipped the restaurant industry on its head. Despite opening a new restaurant which has challenges of its own being so unknown at the time, Vahidy looked at it as an opportunity to try some different things and integrate technology and e-commerce into his business.
“It’s more understanding the market's needs and acting on it, the climate really taught us to be very hands-on with management, where you’re able to look at the trends of food popping up around the world and you’re trying to bring that people here,” he said.
Part of Vahidy's hands on approach has been to reduce his time in the office and instead be a stop-gap, even if it's helping out on the floor of the restaurant or behind the wheel.
“I personally started delivering meals from the start of the pandemic for two or three months, now we’re in a place where we have 7-8 drivers going out,” he said.
Part of the new approach that Vahidy has taken is creating new meals, dishes specifically for certain distributors, and opening their fridges to taking in food from others restaurants as part of cross-promotion strategies.
“Dine-in at full capacity won’t happen for a while, so you have to create opportunities, pair up with other restaurants where you’d think your products could do well, create new products - we’ve done a lot of this over the past nine months,” he said.
While people like Skelly want to disobey rules, Vahidy has decided to become an innovator. Forming partnerships with other restaurants was an easy step given his years of working in hospitality management, but the next step was to integrate technology into the food business. He began to study the restaurant business through an e-commerce sense, both online and through food delivery apps which resulted in food items that best suit his target audience.
“We focused on creating an e-commerce platform to make the translation smoother for people coming from all over the GTA..we’ve taken an approach to solve the problems that have been created,” he said. “We know our business is not going to be as profitable as it’s going to be when we’re fully open..it’s tough, but for every problem there is an opportunity,” he said.
With what feels like decades of experience gained in nine months, Vahidy wants to use his opportunity and time to not disavow medical health professionals, but instead help struggling restaurants and work together.
“It’s a tough time for businesses in the country and around the world, we want to focus on what’s been available rather than voicing our opinions in a different manner,” said Vahidy.