It goes without saying it's a tough time to be working in the service industry — and it's led one British Columbia restaurateur to decide that it's time to pack it in and send his staff home.
But not for good.
After watching his staff work under stressful pandemic conditions since spring 2020, Senor Froggy owner Rob Stodola is giving them a week off with pay to rest and recharge, starting Sept. 13.
"Let's be real, this year's been rough," said Stodola, whose well known Mexican establishments in Kamloops, B.C., have been serving customers since the early 1980s.
"We are not making normal business decisions."
Stodola said it's not just COVID-19 that's contributed to unprecedented stress levels for himself and his staff, but also the recent discovery of remains at the city's former residential school, this summer's deadly heat wave and yet another harrowing wildfire season in the B.C. Interior.
Calling it a "hot, stressful roller coaster of a summer," Stodola says his hard-working employees deserve a cooling down period.
"Without people, without staff, we can't operate — and they've been amazing," he said.
The two Senor Froggy locations employ around 40 people.
Jennifer McEwen, manager of the Senor Froggy restaurant in the city's north shore, says having a full week off paid is huge.
McEwen was laid off from a retail job in 2020 and says this feels like the first time an employer has truly supported her.
"I have never felt more like a part of a whole, a part of a unit, like someone who is cared about and treated well as I do here," she said.
McEwen sees the welcome break not as a sign of weakness, but as a reward for staff's strength and adaptability as they navigated regularly changing industry protocols.
"We are not closing because we can't handle it, we are closing because we have handled it," she said.
Kimberlee Bryson has been working for Stodola while her firefighting son has been battling blazes and her daughter has been working in health care doing hospital cleaning due to COVID-19.
It's been a stressful ride for the whole family.
Knowing she has an opportunity to regroup with pay feels like a priceless gift to her at this time.
"You can't put a value on that," said Bryson.
Both Senor Froggy locations will reopen Sept. 21.