'My hope gone': Charlottetown business owner denied COVID-19 support grant

·3 min read
Sushil Sapkota bought Café Thomas-Martin in September 2021. (Shane Hennessey/CBC News - image credit)
Sushil Sapkota bought Café Thomas-Martin in September 2021. (Shane Hennessey/CBC News - image credit)

A Prince Edward Island café owner is asking the province for support after he was denied a COVID-19 support grant.

Earlier this year, Innovation P.E.I. introduced the Small Business COVID-19 Support Grant. The program was implemented to help businesses that were impacted by the public health restrictions.

Sushil Sapkota, owner of Café Thomas-Martin in downtown Charlottetown, applied for the grant. He said his business faced many challenges throughout the pandemic, including a closure in late January.

"I've had lots of hardships [running] the café, I shut down for a couple weeks," he said. "I laid off my employees."

Sapkota bought the café in September 2021. He said most of his customers before the lockdown worked in nearby office buildings. Now, many of those people work from home and he's noticed a drastic loss in business.

"Nobody's around here, maybe 10 or 20 per cent of customers," he said. "I'm getting no more than that."

Shane Hennessey/CBC News
Shane Hennessey/CBC News

When Sapkota's café closed, he heard about the announcement for the grant program. He said he was "hopeful" and thought it was "good news" for his business.

"They announced it and I felt like that was the grant for me," he said.

He filed his application, and said he spoke with a caseworker to answer specific questions about the café. But, the application was denied.

"My hope, gone," he said.

Grant criteria

When Sapkota contacted Innovation P.E.I. about his application being denied, he said he was told it was because his café is not a full-service restaurant.

CBC News reached out to the province about the criteria for the grant.

In a statement, they said the grant was for businesses affected by "enhanced public health measures." Those measures included "in-room dining and services at eating establishments or licensed premises."

Takeout, drive-thru and home delivery options were not restricted under those measures, according to the statement.

"Therefore, full-service restaurants were impacted by the measures, while quick service restaurants could continue to operate," the statement said.

Sapkota thinks the grant criteria needs to change.

"I'm impacted more than the bigger restaurants," he said. "There is no support for me, and maybe there's other businesses that are like me or they are in the same condition as me."

Liberal MLA wants criteria addressed

Gord McNeilly, MLA for Charlottetown-West Royalty said the strict criteria created a gap for business owners in P.E.I., and as COVID-19 cases rise once again, he's concerned there isn't adequate support in place.

"COVID did not discriminate for the business community in Prince Edward Island, they were shut down," he said.

McNeilly said the grant was intended to help businesses access much-needed support, but the province failed to include the small business community.

"When the support program was created, it was done quickly, and the people putting the program together tried, but maybe this was a gap and it doesn't make sense," he said.

Nicole Williams/CBC
Nicole Williams/CBC

"I'm not sure why [they] couldn't have just said restaurants instead of full-service restaurants, what's the difference … I really think that businesses have to be supported across the board," said McNeilly.

He said everyone faced their own challenges throughout the pandemic, especially those who own a business. He said the grant created a "discriminatory policy" that doesn't support businesses equally.

McNeilly said he reached out to the province about his concerns with the grant criteria. He said it's an issue that needs to be fixed. He hopes to meet with the province to discuss changes soon.

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