Assistance from inside and outside the Canadian foodservice industry has been vital to so many operators during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vastly reduced traffic and revenues, staffing challenges, and the myriad other issues caused by the pandemic have seen restaurants close from coast to coast in Canada, in many cases permanently.
In many cases, governmental support like the emergency wage and emergency rent subsidies simply does not go far enough to mitigating the damage.
But initiatives like the Ontario Restaurant and Bar Support Fund (RABS Fund) are attempting to ensure that some small local businesses can stay afloat. The RABS Fund launched in March 2021 with the aim of offering financial support to some of Ontario’s province’s struggling foodservice operations.
The registered not-for-profit organization is intent on saving as many food and beverage establishments and jobs in Ontario as possible via generous one-time grants of up to $5,000. Those grants can be used to help cover bills and routine expenses, with no expectation of repayment. Every dollar raised by the Fund goes back out to cover costs for restaurateurs.
“We are Ontarians helping fellow Ontarians and we are committed to supporting as many small businesses and entrepreneurs as we can through this difficult period of time,” says Tony Carvalho, chair of the Fund and President of GotSkill? Games. “Our ability to assist these small businesses is completely dependent on Ontarians’ generosity.”
The effects of the collaborative industry effort, which has been conceived and supported by partners including GotSkill? and MediaEdge Communications, as well as high-profile brands such as Labatt’s and Steam Whistle, are already being felt across the province.
Helping Ontario F&B businesses
Since March, the Fund has raised $80,000 and given out $45,000 in grants to at least a dozen restaurants, including:
- Jawny Bakers Restaurant, East York
- The Edmund Burke, Toronto
- LeeNamJang Korean Restaurant, North York
- Captain Robin’s Family Restaurant, Mississauga
- Crossroads Restaurant, Rosseau
- Lock 27 Tap & Grill, Youngs Point
- Crazy Jacks Bar & Grill, Oshawa
- Wychwood Pub, Toronto
- Shooters Tavern, Thunder Bay
- Copper Penny Restaurant, Kingston
- Rol Jui, Toronto
- Irene’s Pub & Restaurant, Ottawa
And you only need to talk to any of these restaurants’ owners or operators or listen to their messages of thanks to understand what the support of the RABS Fund and its grants mean to these businesses.
One such restaurant was Jawny Bakers in East York. In a virtual conversation documented by the RABS Fund, owner Olga Zoras was visibly emotional at the support being offered to her business, as well as the industry in general. She emphasized that without support systems like the RABS Fund, their situation could have become irreparable.
“Thank goodness we have this support… We are so grateful as an organization and a family to all the support systems like [the RABS Fund] that have presented themselves to our industry. Without this help, it would have been a very different outcome for so many small businesses. It’s amazing that there are so many people out there that are working together to help people like us get through this. we are so grateful because any amount helps us to get to the other side of this.”Olga Zoras, Jawny Bakers
LeeNamJang Korean Restaurant in North York was another grateful recipient. Manager Jane Jhung credits the RABS Fund grant with saving the restaurant from potential closure amid plummeting revenues.
“We’ve tried to help the community and reach out to those in need, as well as to keep a lot of our full-time staff on. Those have been huge challenges as we’ve only been open for takeout. Business has gone down by 85 to 90 per cent and the RABS Fund grant has really helped us cover some of the expenses that wouldn’t otherwise have been manageable. Even with patios open and the industry finally reopening again, weand other operators still face struggles with things like understaffing. We hope that others will be able to make a donation to the Fund to help other small businesses in the community that are struggling in the same or even worse ways than us.”Jane Jhung, LeeNamJang Korean Restaurant
A recent recipient of a grant for $3,500 was Vanessa Leung and Rol Jui in Toronto, pictured above with Tony Carvalho and MediaEdge SVP Chuck Nervick. Leung notes the difficulties the restaurant has faced with supply and staffing issues over the last 16 months.
“The grant was so important to us to be able to keep going, keep staff employed, and keep serving our customers who are the people we rely on for support. We’re so happy to have been so selected to get this funding. It’s just so helpful and allows us to open up the business further. We need to buy supplies and fresh foods and clean up the restaurant and just ensure we are providing the best experience we can to the customers. The funding will allow us to do that, to pay expenses and freshen up the restaurant. It’s just so hellpful for so many things and a real relief for us.”Vanessa Leung, Rol Jui
Annette Mazzeo, who owns and operates Kingston’s Copper Penny with her husband Gerry, says that the necessary transition from traditional in-person dining to off-premises operation was a huge undertaking. She notes the Fund’s grant will allow them to continue moving ahead in an increasingly digital foodservice world.
“The effects of this pandemic and the lockdowns have been devastating for our business and our staff, both finacially and emotionally and mentally. The uncertainty has really taken its toll… With the grant money, we’re going to offset the operational costs that we’ve already encountered in enhancing our takeout business and we’ll be leveraging any remainder to continue to optimize our processes… We want to do whatever it takes to keep providing what we can to our city and our beloved staff, to keep them employed and healthy… We appreciate the grant beyond our means to adequately describe it.”Annette Mazzeo, Copper Penny
The Edmund Burke
Pictured above are Ginger Robertson and her husband Russ, co-owners of The Edmund Burke on Toronto’s Danforth, which was the first restaurant to receive a grant. Ginger explains that the financial crisis caused by the pandemic took their family from planning for the future to mere “survival mode”.
“The playing field for hospitality has not been level and hasn’t been from the very beginning. In losing everything, I do not know how we are ever going to recover. We were saving to buy a house. We have a six-year-old son who just wants a backyard and that’s gone; it will never happen. So, right now we are in survival mode. We are just trying to stay alive so we can bring our staff back so we can continue to be part of the community here on the Danforth. It is through the generosity of Funds like this that give us a little bit of breathing room and help us. It gives us hope that someday soon we will be open. We are going to use the funds to keep our staff employed. They are like family to us.”Ginger Robertson, The Edmund Burke
Apply and contribute today
The RABS Fund website has an easy application process and grant money for approved applications will be e-transferred to establishments within 10 business days of receipt of all required information and documentation. 100 per cent of funds received are distributed to applicants, and all fund operation costs are donated by the founding partners.
The Restaurant & Bar Support Fund website has full details for both businesses looking for assistance and for donors looking to contribute to the Fund at www.RestaurantandBarSupportFund.ca.
Visit the GoFundMe page to donate to the cause: www.gofundme.com/ontario-restaurant-and-bar-support-fund.