COVID-19 restrictions have "decimated" parts of the service industry but two downtown business owners have found a creative way to retain staff, cut costs and save a struggling bar — merge.
They're able to save money by having better buying power, streamlining costs, combining operating systems and can shift staff fluidly, according to Wade Griffith, co-owner of the newly formed Endeavor Hospitality Group.
Last week he merged his two businesses — The Patio Lounge and the Chatham Street Diner — with Christian Pinard, who owned the Primary Social Club. They also purchased The Dugout, a downtown bar, which was struggling to stay afloat.
"Through the pandemic we kind of figured out, we're not going to make it alone," said Griffith. "To make it as a business model that works, we have to join forces."
"With the uncertainty moving forward, you kind of think of it as a table is stronger with four legs than one," said Pinard.
"We're watching all of our friends in this industry getting decimated." - Wade Griffith, downtown business owner
They've both taken on debt during the pandemic to keep the doors open and Pinard said his business model has changed four times since COVID-19 hit just to adapt.
Between all four businesses, there are about 78 employees, and the merger, they say, saved jobs. But they couldn't prevent layoffs after provincial restrictions prohibited indoor dining. More than half of those employees aren't working.
The Primary Social Club, which is a dance and nightclub, is completely closed and not generating any revenue.
"When you're closed, there's no pause on your mortgage, or your rent or your insurance ... you just basically have to figure out how many days before bankruptcy," said Pinard.
Then comes deciding whether personal savings or credit cards should be used the help stop the bleeding, he said. Even the government assistance isn't free money; they're loans that need to be repaid, Pinard added.
"Trying to bail out debt with more debt, even in the best case scenario, this is an industry that already has slim margins ... sometimes it makes more fiscal sense to throw in the towel," said Pinard.
1 in 6 small, medium-size businesses predicted to shutter
The Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce estimates one in six small and medium-sized business will close permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And that's something Griffith has seen first-hand among friends who owned businesses.
"We're watching all of our friends in this industry getting decimated," said Griffith. "I know people who have taken out all the equity in their home, maxed out credit cards, sold their cars, they've turned in their kids graduation funds to keep their businesses afloat right now ..."
To help others, Griffith and Pinard said they're open to bringing other viable businesses under their umbrella to help them survive.