Restaurant owners weigh options amid tough times

By Andru McCracken


The Caribou Grill was one of the first restaurants in Valemount to close in light of COVID-19 health restrictions and a new 75% wage subsidy isn’t going to be enough for them to reopen.

“We’re certainly not going to be hiring back everyone,” said Patricia Thoni. “There is nothing to do here.”

Thoni said that they quickly issued records of employment to staff so they could file for Employment Insurance.

With no income, she says the restaurant will struggle to pay the bills.

“One of the big worries is the property taxes; will they allow payments or not penalize us if we don’t pay right away? Insurance happens right around then too,” she said. “That will be tough.”

Thoni said the restaurant was hoping to recoup losses incurred over the winter with a busy summer.

For now, that seems off the books.

Thoni said there are fewer sledders and those who come to Valemount are spending less.

“The sledders won’t be coming back any time soon,” said Thoni. “Alberta is in a double crisis with COVID and low oil prices.”

Thoni said the old heydays of a busy winter era with a booming economy next door are gone.

“On a Saturday night this place was packed, we could barely keep up with bartending,” she said. “We might have had a couple nights this winter with a line-up, it was very brief.”

Thoni fears that Valemount could return to the days of closing up during the winter.

“Thinking of selling… you can’t even dream of selling right now. No one is going to buy right now. It’s all pretty scary,” she said.

Likely Thoni and her husband will pick up the slack.

“We’re probably going to have to do a lot more work ourselves unfortunately, you just don’t know,” she said.

Thoni had been prepping for a banner summer. She had new table numbers prepared by a local craftsperson, as lately summers have brought vast numbers of Europeans.

Thoni is guessing COVID-19 will decimate those numbers.

Some Optimism
In McBride Kilin restaurant remains open for business for take-out.

Owner Raymond Lin said that winter had been better than prior winters until measures to combat COVID-19 were enacted.

“It’s slow. We don’t have snowmobilers and no highway traffic. It only leaves the locals and they are still waiting for Employment Insurance,” said Lin.

“I’ve been through a lot of tough times. If it doesn’t go on too long, it’s okay.”

When asked how long was ‘too long,’ Lin said he could hold out for two months.

It is the fixed costs that have him worried: property taxes, the electricity bill, the heating bill.

He guesses he is making due with one third of his usual business.

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