Small business vs pandemic — Grim tales from Blondies Burgers (Includes first-hand account)
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article imageSmall business vs pandemic — Grim tales from Blondies Burgers Special

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By Paul Wallis     Dec 6, 2020 in Business
Winnipeg - Small businesses don’t like lockdowns. There are plenty of good reasons for that. I got talking to Sandy Doyle, well-known Blondies Burgers restauranteur, and got some grim facts.
The hits are big, and potentially lethal. Let’s start with a little background:
1. Canada is now in a nasty spike which looks very like the US spike in terms of going through the roof in an upward trajectory.
2. Canadian businesses, like businesses worldwide, got hit hard by the lockdowns. They’ve been staggering around trying to get back on their feet, now this. Small businesses have taken a virtual nuclear strike.
These issues are not in dispute. The issue is what to do to keep a sizeable chunk of the economy from going under, ASAP. Fortunately for me, Sandy had plenty to say about the situation. This is the warts-and-all version, and it’s tough going for these businesses.
Looks like the third wave has hit Canada and is spiking. What’s your gut reaction? What’s been the impact on your business through the pandemic?
Hi Paul. Yes what we are seeing here in Winnipeg is what they are referring to as the second wave. When the province shut us down the first time we had no cases of COVID, very few, not even 20 if I remember correctly, you’d have to check that. The Federal government stepped in with their CERB program, which I unfortunately did not qualify for, so I had to come up with Specials and Promotions to get enough business to keep my doors open.
The provincial government then came up with a GAP loan of $6000 that I did qualify for so that kept the heat on. Scary scary times. All the while listening to these bureaucrats at their press conferences who closed all the shopping malls which included small private businesses and kept saying we still had takeout and delivery… yes we did and we lose 30% of each sale to the delivery companies which they have no comprehension of.
After losing almost everything we have in life our Premier decides to spend a fortune on ad campaigns to restart Manitoba, open the borders, open everything up again, allows restaurants and shops and malls and bars to open up to a certain capacity and enjoy life again. I feel it was because of this restart that we are in this dire situation today.
However… the restrictions they put on the restaurants were still so strict we could not recoup the losses from the months our dining rooms were shut down. Because my dining room is so small I could only open up seating for 10 people. 10.
How’s the cashflow? Murderous, better, or worse? How close to the bottom line has your business been pushed? What effect have you seen on local business in general?
How has it affected my cash flow? There’s not much cash flow left to be had and I’m not alone. So many local shops have closed down either because they couldn’t get their staff to come back because they made too much money from CERB or they couldn’t survive the shutdowns. This time around will be worse.
What effect has this global mess had on suppliers? Have you been hit with extra cost, supply issues, etc.?
My dining room hasn’t been closed two weeks yet and two of my suppliers have raised their prices. Take away boxes are difficult to find. I had to go to another town to find the ones I needed. Sleepless nights. Again. When the numbers started to rise again as a result of RESTART Manitoba and restaurants started to get targeted people became afraid to go to them even though there have been ZERO CASES associated with restaurants in this city. ZERO.
Doug Ford has rejected the closure of indoor dining in “some areas” of Ontario for lack of evidence. Does this make business sense to you, or does it seem selective?
I agree 100% with Doug Ford about how restaurants should be handled. We’ve had a few restaurants here who have been fined for not following the restrictions. Those ones should have been closed. The rest of us little guys doing everything right, no. I fear for the future of the little diners this time around. The cookie jars are empty, we’re looking for spare change under the sofa cushions for goodness sake.
You mentioned the chain food stores seemed to be doing OK during the pandemic. Why is that, and how fair is it to restaurants?
We didn’t go into this business to make money, there isn’t much to be made, we go into it because we love what we do. It’s hard to compete with fast food chains but we do, or at least we have until now. I’m one of the luckier ones, I’ve lasted 30 plus years, have had countless newspaper articles written about me and my business, been in the news several times over the years and still have a show in re runs on the food network! Haha!
However, if the government doesn’t step in with some financial aid for us soon I will just be that crazy red head with the big mouth and a cat named Machine Gun who used to make 9 pound Burgers.
Just found out that my girlfriend's place is closing at the end of the month. For Christ’s sake.
The bottom line here is that Sandy is calling it the way it is. That is the unvarnished, and pretty damn gruesome, truth. Small businesses, particularly restaurants, (which just happen to feed people, in case anyone’s forgotten), are getting buried. More needs to be done, right now, or the community is going to take another, totally avoidable hit from this repulsive pandemic. It’s not asking a lot to send some cash and practical support where it’s needed.
Fun facts - While researching Sandy’s restaurant, I found some classic info, including this gem from CBC. It’s called style, and some pretty gigantic burgers go with it well. I’m still chuckling. A good laugh can always help in tough times.
More about Sandy Doyle, Blondies Burgers, pandemic effect on small businesses in Winnipeg, CERB, Restart Manitoba
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