The Sea Raven restaurant in Queen Charlotte is one of several restaurants on Haida Gwaii that have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Karissa Gall/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Haida Gwaii restaurant owner joins #OneTable campaign, calls for government support

Chef-owner of Blacktail says loans not enough for restaurants impacted by COVID-19

A Haida Gwaii restaurant owner is calling on government to safeguard the industry through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edi Szasz, chef-owner of Blacktail in Queen Charlotte, took to social media on April 4 to advocate for more support for restaurants that are struggling due to the effects of the virus.

“1.2 million Canadians are employed in the restaurant industry. 800,000 people are unemployed as of today,” Szasz wrote on Instagram. “We desperately need the government to step in and offer support to restaurants to ensure we have a future in this industry.”

Szasz also tagged the #OneTable awareness campaign in his post. In conjunction with Restaurants Canada, the campaign is asking government for immediate relief for the restaurant industry, immediate protection, and help to reopen and hire.

ALSO READ: B.C. restaurant workers stressed as COVID-19 causes layoffs

While Szasz told the Observer he and his business partner expect to be able to reopen Blacktail “when this mess is all cleared up,” he has completely closed the restaurant temporarily.

He did offer take-out service after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered all restaurants across the province to close their doors to dine-in guests on March 20, which was “OK” business-wise. However, after about a week he decided to shut that down, too, so as not to put his four-year-old daughter at risk of exposure to the virus.

“I take that home with me every day,” he said of the daily take-out transactions he was doing. “I just felt like it was part of my duty to be responsible, do my part and not take any risks.”

ALSO READ: Taking time off work due to COVID-19 now falls under medical leave

Szasz said Community Futures has done a “tremendous job” in supporting local businesses by postponing loan payments for up to four months. He also noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a suite of new measures to support small businesses on March 27, including up to $40,000 in loans interest-free for one year, with up to $10,000 forgiven under the new Canada Emergency Business Account.

However, he said the industry is “not looking for loans.”

“We’re looking for some sort of a bailout system,” he said. “I just feel … it’s going to take some time for restaurants to get back to where they were. I just don’t see a lot of small businesses being able to pay that back.”

Especially on Haida Gwaii, where restaurants face “pretty significant” challenges considering the small local population and reliance on tourism to pay the bills, he said being in a position to pay back a loan would “take some time.”

“The margins are already tight enough because not a lot of people live here,” he said. “And it doesn’t look like we’re going to have much tourism this summer.

“A loan will only compound problems down the road.”

ALSO READ: B.C. to allow restaurants to hire laid-off servers to deliver alcohol

Lorelei Krueger, owner of the Ocean View restaurant and pub in Queen Charlotte, said the timing of the virus could not have been worse for Haida Gwaii restaurants.

“In a seasonal town like we live in, we really count on our summer sales to pull us through winter,” Krueger said. “By the time March comes around, your reserves are pretty much empty. So the timing was really bad.”

As for staying open to offer take-out, she said “it wasn’t worth turning on the lights at the end of the day.”

“People here use going out to eat as a form of entertainment. If they’re told to stay home, they’re going to cook at home,” she said.

“We don’t have SkipTheDishes, we don’t have DoorDash or Uber Eats where it’s convenient for people,” she added, noting Ocean View did not have the resources to offer delivery themselves.

While she thought the loan program was “fabulous,” she agreed with Szasz it would be difficult to pay back.

“You’re just digging yourself deeper and deeper,” she said. “You have to make that decision: Is it worth the risk … or is it not?”

— With files from Ashley Wadhwani

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