When provincial officials announced March 19 restaurants across Toronto could open for patio service the next day, owners owners across the city prepared to open within a few hours notice.
But they know it’s a precarious situation, as the numbers of this infected with COVID-19 rise, and that could plunge the industry back into lockdown. ICU cases are also rising in Ontario
Joanna Kopty owns The Morning After, a brunch and bottle service restaurant in downtown Toronto. She, along with some of her staff, worked for hours on the Friday night after the good news preparing to open the next morning.
“They told us at 6 p.m. on Friday night, that we could open on Saturday. In a restaurant, Saturdays and Sundays are the best days of the week. You don’t want to miss out on that,” she said.
After shutting down for its second time in November, The Morning After and its staff survived off of summer funds, government grants, and subsidies. These forms of income were the only way restaurants could survive. Even businesses that stayed open for takeout and delivery had trouble making money.
“I hope we don’t lose the government support. Without support, we wouldn’t have a business,” Rocco Mastrangelo Jr. said.
Mastrangelo is the co-owner of Cafe Diplomatico, an iconic Italian restaurant in Toronto’s Little Italy. He said opening the restaurant’s patio was very helpful to their business, despite the capacity cuts for social distancing.
“The business is good,” he said. “I’ve been here about 20 or 25 years. It was really good to see customers come back again and it’s great for the business, as long as the weather cooperates,”
Employees were also excited to get back to work.
“It’s good to have an income and be busy. My interactions with people and working as a whole… I was just very excited to be doing all that again,” Alisha Davis said.
Davis, a second-year Social Service Work student at Humber College, works part-time as a hostess at Firkin on The Bay restaurant. Davis said going back to work was very helpful for her financially.
“I was making more [money] when I was working because of tips, and I was working a lot of hours,” Davis said.
But through the excitement of restaurants being able to open again, the fear of a third lockdown looms. COVID-19 cases, particularly its variants, continue to rise in Ontario, and Premier Doug Ford has hinted at increased restrictions, if not another lockdown.
“I’m thinking positively,” Mastrangelo said.
“I’m not sure [what we would do]. If it wasn’t for the subsidy, we would not be open to delivery, because it wouldn’t make any financial sense,” he said. “We’re barely breaking even.
What’s the point of breaking even and risking yourself getting sick because you’re still exposed traveling to work and things like that,” Mastrangelo said.
Kopty was also unsure of the direction her restaurant would take in case of a third lockdown.
“I am not sure what we’re going to do if there’s another lockdown, to be honest,” she said. “It’s been over a year now, that a struggling new business has to suffer through something like this.
“No one wants to give up on their business after you’ve invested so much time and energy through the last two lockdowns to survive them,” Kopty said.