‘We’re a resilient group’: Guelph restaurateur issues temporary layoffs amid coronavirus pandemic

Ontario government declares state of emergency amid coronavirus outbreak
Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency for the province on Tuesday. He stated that effective immediately a number of places, including recreational centres and places of worship, will be closed until at least March 31. He also announced new measures to help public health workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization that operates some of Guelph’s most popular restaurants is issuing temporary layoffs to its employees after closing their doors amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Neighbourhood Group operates Miijidaa Cafe and Bistro, Borealis Grille and Bar and The Wooly Pub, along with Park Grocery.

READ MORE: Ontario government declares state of emergency amid coronavirus pandemic

President and CEO Court Desautels said the decision to close and temporarily let go of employees was made on Monday night before the Ontario government ordered all restaurants and bars to be closed until March 31.

“It was an incredibly difficult conversation. We were all very emotional about it,” he said fighting back tears while speaking to Global News on Tuesday.

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“Our thought process through all of this has had nothing to do about our business. It’s all about the people working here and all the small suppliers that we support.”

Park Grocery at Woolwich Street and London Road will remain open for takeout, curbside pickup and delivery.

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But closing three restaurants means no work for several employees. It’s unclear how many will be affected, but Desautels said these steps are critical in allowing the restaurants to reopen sooner.

“We’re a resilient group,” he said. “We’ve got so many great people and we live in a great community and there’s no doubt that we will rally together and get through it all.”

Desautels said The Neighbourhood Group is working with banks and lenders to put together some emergency funds for its staff and will continue to pay health benefits. Care packages containing perishable food items from the restaurants are also being sent home with staff members.

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READ MORE: First potential coronavirus-related death reported in Ontario

They’re also reaching out to neighbourhood groups that they deal with regularly, such as Hope House and The Seed, to find out ways to help.

Those who are still working will be ramping up efforts to figure out the best ways to assist those in need over the next few weeks, Desautels said.

“I think it has given us a real amazing opportunity to help those that are even less fortunate than us,” he said.

Desautels added that the overwhelming support from the community and his own staff has helped him stay positive over the last few days.

How to support local businesses through COVID-19 pandemic
How to support local businesses through COVID-19 pandemic

“These unprecedented measures have affected me quite emotionally, but I am, despite my emotions, very positive through this whole thing,” he said.

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READ MORE: Guelph General Hospital restricting visitors, cancelling elective surgeries

He hopes to start opening the restaurants as soon as possible, even if it’s on a rotating basis and restarting slowly, but he wants to see the entire community get back on its feet when the time is right.

“This will pass,” Desautels said. “I know this city well and this city is going to rally hard.”