(Bryan Eneas/CBC - image credit)
Regina's downtown is losing a plant-based restaurant and grocery store this month, which the owner says is thanks in part to the high fees tied to third-party delivery services and a drop in traffic in the city's downtown.
Güd Eats owner and chef Chris Cole said on social media late last month that he would be closing up shop in Regina, and refining the business at his Saskatoon location.
"It's never easy making an announcement like that, especially when you feel like you've kind of helped build that plant-based culture in a new city," Cole told CBC Radio.
"It seems like just yesterday when we opened.… It just seems very soon. But at the same time, timing was everything and it definitely was not on our side."
Cole said he's trying to make decisions that will save the company as a whole, and the Saskatoon location is doing "all right" so far.
He attributed some of the Regina restaurant's downfall to a decline in foot traffic in the city's downtown, with more office employees working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Part of the reason Güd Eats opened where it did just under one year ago, he said, was because of that downtown foot traffic.
When the business opened last year, he'd seen reports that showed there were about 12,000 people a day in the city's downtown, he said.
Numbers he was provided in December showed there were 1,200 people working in downtown Regina.
Fees from third-party delivery companies like Skip the Dishes were one reason owners of Güd Eats cited for closing the location in downtown Regina.
With a shift in the way the business operates — Cole said a majority of its pandemic business came from delivery or takeout orders — costs also rose, including percentages taken by delivery services like Skip the Dishes.
When contacted about its fees and charges to restaurants, the company pointed to policy changes during the pandemic.
The company said it has provided over $43 million in commission rebates and "order-driving initiatives" back to its partners in Canada.
Fees charged by delivery services can often be up to 30 per cent of the bill, but Skip says it has implemented commission rebates as part of a "support package" in areas affected by pandemic closures.
That means local independent restaurants "are paying less than 20 per cent in commission while their dining rooms are required to close," the company's statement said.
The statement also said Skip the Dishes offers a 10.5 per cent commission rate for any restaurant using its own staff to make deliveries while using its platform.
Güd Eats owner and chef Chris Cole says he's optimistic for the company's future as he looks north to Saskatoon to refine his business model.
Cole says the fees charged make it tough to be profitable, but describes the third-party delivery companies as a "necessary evil."
Logistically, offering its own delivery service "would be a nightmare" for his restaurant, he said, and would require hiring more staff.
"We've looked at it. We have. But when you sit down and punch numbers, you're going to be paying an employee X amount per year."
Cole said while the fees weren't the only factor in Güd Eats leaving — the business opened a bit late due to renovations at its location, and went a bit over budget — he would like to see Saskatchewan consider implementing caps on the fees, like some other provinces in Canada have done.
CBC has reached out to a Regina city councillor to see if council has any plans to ask the province to explore such a cap on fees.
A bump in the road
While the Regina location is closing, Cole said it is a "bump in the road." He remains optimistic for the future of the business overall, and said he still hopes to expand the Güd Eats brand to other provinces in the future.
Cole noted he'd received a lot of support on social media from residents of Regina, who vowed to make the trip north to Saskatoon to continue enjoying his plant-based goods.
He said he was honoured to serve Regina for the time he did, and didn't rule out a possible return.
"We're going to just keep plugging away because we believe in our brand and our product, and like I said, this could just be a small bump in the road," Cole said. "We'll keep going strong."