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Coronavirus: Some Alberta restaurants struggling despite being allowed to reopen

Alberta restaurants still struggling despite being allowed to open
WATCH ABOVE: It's been nearly a month since the province allowed customers to dine-in at Alberta restaurants, but even as restrictions continue to relax, restaurants are having a hard time attracting business. Sarah Ryan reports.

It’s been nearly a month since the province of Alberta allowed restaurants to re-open for dine-in service but still, some restaurants are struggling to make ends meet.

Mahmoud Hamadeh owns Olympus Donair in Edmonton’s Brander Gardens community and he says the pandemic has been really challenging for his small restaurant.

“We lost more than 50 per cent of our revenue.”

Hamadeh said even though the province gave the green light to resume operations at 50 per cent capacity for seated customers, he was uncomfortable with the idea.

“We are still not open for dine-in. We still don’t really feel safe.”

He said he’s been trying to limit interactions with customers by taking orders over the phone for pick up or sending food out for delivery.

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“Things are starting to get a little better but we are still not busy enough to cover our costs.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta restaurants expect staggered start when reopening begins

He said even though his landlord has been supportive and flexible, some bills still are not being paid.

Most of his business came from parents dropping students off at school or a nearby gymnastics club – neither of which are currently open.

Right now, he can also only have three customers in Olympus Donair at a time, due to distancing requirements.

Stage 2 of Alberta relaunch will happen in June 12
Stage 2 of Alberta relaunch will happen in June 12

Effective Friday, as part of Alberta’s Phase 2 reopening, restaurants won’t have any cap limiting how many people can dine-in, as long as tables are two metres apart.

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But that won’t help restaurants like Haus Falkenstein. The German restaurant, located near the Telus World of Science, is known for holding a Guinness World Record for the largest number of pan-friend schnitzel varieties: 347.

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But even that isn’t bringing in customers. Owner Silke Hentschel said they opened up as early as possible, on May 14 – but only had one order all day.

They expected a slow start, but were optimistic things would improve with time.

“Now it’s [been] a month, and it’s still not significantly better.”

She thinks not all customers are ready to have a seated meal outside their own home.

“Some of them are scared and others might not have the money.”

READ MORE: Alberta restaurants ask Jason Kenney for clear rules before they reopen during COVID-19 pandemic

Another issue plaguing the beleaguered restaurant industry? Additional costs. From personal protective equipment to food.

“Do we buy more meat — which is twice the price now than before — and waste it? Or do we tell people, ‘Sorry, we’re out’? It’s this guessing game that we have to narrow down a bit so we don’t have even more loss than necessary.”

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Even with a break on rent from their landlord, this week, Haus Falkenstein had to reduce its hours.

“We can’t sit here, have everything fresh, and just wait for customers to come and then we have to throw it away or eat it ourselves,” Hentschel said.

“It doesn’t make sense to have everything going here, the hood and all the appliances, for nothing.”

The restaurant is also offering takeout, or contactless curbside pickup.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said hospitality businesses in Alberta, including restaurants, are struggling. Eighty per cent cannot cope with additional expenses right now.

“Business is not back to normal. Although these businesses are able to open, they’ve not seeing the revenues that they saw at the same time last year, or even prior to the pandemic,” Annie Dormuth said.

Restaurants Canada echoes that sentiment, saying if things don’t improve, Alberta’s restaurant industry could miss out on as much as $5.8 billion in sales this year compared to last.

“What we encourage people to do is shop local every day, support local every day,” she said.

That would be a huge help to the Hentschels.

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“That would mean that we could go on with our lives and keep this going. We would really appreciate that,” she said.