Where do we go from here?

The Red Apron is one of the fortunate few small businesss that are fully open

Our industry has been hit incredibly hard by this pandemic, which is now in it’s 7th week of lockdown. The results of a recent Restaurants Canada survey are in, and the findings are deeply worrisome. One out of every two independent restaurants say they are worried they might not survive the next few months. The latest announcement about rent relief, although welcome by small business owners, has not been popular with all landlords. And truthfully, even paying only 25% of your rent is a hardship when your business has been forced to close, and your revenues are zero.

The most recent survey results from The Canadian Federation of Independent Business shows that even those businesses that remain open are seeing their revenue drop by more than half. With only 21% of independent business in Canada fully open at this time, we are feeling very grateful at the Red Apron to be one of the really fortunate few. The same survey showed that most businesses would need to see their revenue return to 75% of what would be ‘normal’ to even make it worthwhile re-opening, meaning that 75% of the ‘normal’ revenue is what is required to cover the costs of being open.

The government has facilitated a $40,000 loan for small businesses, but paying expenses with no revenue in sight means small business owners are racking up debt with no idea of when, or if they might be able to start earning money to repay the debt.

The Federal and Provincial governments are doing their best to help steer us through this crisis, and I appreciate their efforts and intentions. That doesn’t make it any less stressful for those small business owners who are trying to make decisions on the future of their businesses without a crystal ball to guide them. Premier Ford’s announcement yesterday did not offer up any clarity.

And still, with all of that uncertainty and despair, I see these same small business owners stepping up to do what they can to help their community. Chef Joe Thotthungal from Restaurants Thali & Coconut Lagoon is working with The Community Foundation of Ottawa to cook thousands of meals for those in need in our community, using out of work cooks from the industry who are volunteering their time to help with this effort.

Jo-Ann Laverty from Marcies Kitchen and Jessie Duffy from Arlington 5 are both working with Go Fund Me campaigns to raise money to cook and donate meals through partnerships with the Parkdale Food Centre.

Our own efforts to provide meals through Parkdale have resulted in more than 1600 meals going to our community to serve people living in rooming houses, seniors who are shut in with no family support, and women in shelters, through organizations like Cornerstone, and Somerset West Community Health Centre. If you would like to contribute to this effort you can donate here.

Staff from SWCHC picking up meals to distribute to the community

So what’s needed at this time to make things feel a bit better? How about a bowl of comforting soup and a delicious grilled cheese sandwich? For some reason this childhood combination always makes me feel better.

Classic Tomato Soup (available in our retail store)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 large tomatoes, chopped and (peeled & de-seeded if you prefer)
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup water
4 sprigs thyme
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and continue to cook for 5 minutes until translucent. Add tomatoes and sugar. Continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add water and thyme. Simmer for about 25 minutes.

Remove sprigs of thyme. Puree the soup in a food processor or with a hand blender. If you prefer a fine soup, you can pass through a sieve. If you prefer a more rustic soup you can puree until chunky. Pour soup back into the pot. Warm gently. Stir in the cream and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Best Ever Grilled Cheese

For the best ever grilled cheese sandwich I encourage you to study this video from the movie Chef, starring Jon Favreau. 

If your mouth doesn’t water watching this clip then you are not ‘grilled cheese worthy’ and you should make yourself a peanut butter sandwich. The key elements for a good grilled cheese are white bread (sourdough is fine), butter is essential, and the oil stops the butter from burning. For cheese, you’ve got to go with your favourites. I’m a fan of sharp cheeses, so my favourite grilled cheese would include aged ‘Iles aux Grues’ cheddar, and because I’m all grown up now, it would also include a sliver or two of Mountainoak Black Truffle cheese – both of which we carry in our retail store.

Hang in there, stay strong and most of all, be kind, especially to small business owners who need your support now, and even more so when this is all over.