Restaurant owners, employees swept up again in latest pandemic wave

·4 min read
Todd Perrin is the chef and co-owner of Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi Village in St. John's. Perrin has decided to close his nationally known restaurant for the next five or six weeks and lay off more than two dozen staff. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Todd Perrin is the chef and co-owner of Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi Village in St. John's. Perrin has decided to close his nationally known restaurant for the next five or six weeks and lay off more than two dozen staff. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

Mallard Cottage restaurant co-owner Todd Perrin spent much of Tuesday writing out records of employment — also known as pink slips — for his more than two dozen employees.

So it was a tough day.

"For the survival of the business and to keep the staff whole in terms of what they can access, it's what we have to do," Perrin said while standing outside the 250-year-old heritage structure in Quidi Vidi Village in St. John's.

Meanwhile, Linda Peddle was passing time in her home on Bell Island, worried about how she'll make ends meet in the coming months after being laid off from her job as a cook at the Wild Horses Pub and Eatery in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's.

"I'm skimming. I have no other choice but skim. The money I'm getting, I've got to make it work," she said Wednesday during a telephone interview.

Perrin and Peddle are just two of many people in the Newfoundland and Labrador restaurant industry who are feeling the pain of Level 4 public health measures amid another surge of COVID-19 infections as the Omicron variant sweeps the globe.

Restrictions limiting restaurants to 50 per cent capacity are difficult, but those restrictions are meaningless because there's just no appetite for dining in at a restaurant, said Perrin.

"It doesn't really matter what the rules are. We have to deal with how our customers behave, and they just don't feel good coming out to a restaurant in a way that makes it sensible for us to stay open," he said.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

January is typically a tough month for the dining industry, and it's not uncommon for Perrin to close his restaurant for a week or two to catch up on maintenance and take a breather.

But this year is different.

"There's no point being open to lose money. We learned that in spades over the last couple of years. We just can't afford it," he said.

Perrin said eat-in options at independently owned restaurants have shrunk dramatically in recent weeks as business owners take extreme measures to ride out this latest blow to the industry.

In many cases, restaurants have opted for reduced hours and have shifted their focus to takeaway orders, which means fewer hours and fewer jobs for people like Linda Peddle. Others, like Perrin, have decided to cut their losses and cease operations temporarily.

"I equate it to a guy who's rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. When it gets stormy enough, eventually you've just got to stop rowing and kind of wait to see what happens."

Reduced benefits

Meanwhile, Peddle received her pink slip on Nov. 24 after nine years in the kitchen at the Wild Horses, and this layoff has an added sting.

When she was sent home last year because of pandemic lockdown measures, she received $800 every two weeks in emergency benefits from the federal government. But this time, she's receiving $500 in unemployment benefits, and that's making it difficult as she tries to balance maintaining a household and putting food on the table.

You don't get into the restaurant business like I've been in it for 20-odd years without thinking that it's going to be better tomorrow.
- Todd Perrin

"I have to make sure I have the money there for my bills, and to feed myself," said Peddle.

Peddle is trying to see the upside by telling herself there are others in more challenging situations, but she admitted her self-esteem is "pretty low."

She hopes the pandemic will subside and she can go to work at the Wild Horses in the spring, but right now she's determined to make the best of her circumstances.

"Right now I've got to go with the flow," she said.

As for Mallard Cottage, Perrin is determined to get through this latest challenge, and perhaps reopen by Valentine's Day.

"I'm highly motivated to keep the things rolling, and I'll cut myself in pieces to do it," he said.

"You don't get into the restaurant business like I've been in it for 20-odd years without thinking that it's going to be better tomorrow."

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