Surviving the lean months: how 2 Montreal business owners are coping with the COVID shutdown

·3 min read

Any other year, the staff at Montreal's Dinette Triple Crown would be busy planning and preparing the tasting menu for parties this holiday season.

"We do a lot of office parties," said owner Nicole Turcotte. "Friends and groups would get together and do big sit-down dinners with anywhere between 12 and 30 people with fixed menus, and usually lots of wine and cocktails."

The bump from that busy party season in December would get her through the lean months of January and February.

That's not the case this year.

The Quebec government has ordered all restaurant dining rooms in red zones to stay closed until at least January 11, in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Now, her dining room is used for storage, and Turcotte is serving takeout from behind a plexi-glass window at her Clark Street eatery.

She and her partner, Colin Perry, are looking for ways to eke out a bit of cash — and stay festive — this holiday season.

Pierre Fortin/CBC
Pierre Fortin/CBC

"We'll be offering some more kind of holiday dishes," said Turcotte. "Colin is thinking about doing some of our classic pies for takeout, and things that people could eat with their families, and also things that we eat over the holidays."

The revenue from the pies and holiday treats won't cover a lot, but every little bit helps.

"We're not under the impression that it's going to be our same sales numbers as last year," said Turcotte. "The goal right now is just to not fall further behind and not put the business in jeopardy for 2021."

Gyms losing out on post-holiday resolutions

And while January and February are Turcotte's lean months, gyms and fitness clubs depend on post-holiday revellers to flock back then to work off the Christmas calories.

But that won't be the case this year.

Nick Trainor, owner of Train Fitness Studio, says he's really going to feel the extended closure.

"January, February are the busiest months of the year for gyms, really," said Trainor. "So, it's going to hit us hard, especially in the downtown core."

"Until they say it's safe to come back to work, especially in this area, we're going to lose out on pretty much all of [the busy months]," he said.

Those two months represent an important window for Trainor to attract new clientele to his gym as well.

And when spring comes, there is a different kind of competition: the outdoors.

"People train outside in the summers," said Trainor. "We're going to miss a whole season and a half before we start to get new members."

Chloe Ranaldi/CBC
Chloe Ranaldi/CBC

With his computer set up on a platform in front of him, Trainor runs fitness classes online to help keep some interest in his gym.

He says people are still signing up for the classes, which he plans to run into the new year. But it's not the same experience for his clients.

"It's one way to keep going, but it's not the same kind of feeling. It's not the same intensity," said Trainor. "Yes, they're still staying fit, but they don't have the use of all the amazing equipment we have in the gym."

Trainor says he will need government help once people are allowed back into gyms, to recover what he lost in the pandemic.

For Nicole Turcotte, she's not counting on the government aid as much as she is hoping government leaders do more to control the cases of COVID-19 in Quebec.

Otherwise, she says, the return to normal for her restaurant will take much longer.

"I have the impression that our leaders don't understand math," she said. "As a business woman, it's really stressful because all I'm dealing with right now is numbers. And they're not good for me and they're not good for my cohorts in the restaurant industry and bars."