‘You can’t live off 4 customers a day’: Toronto restaurateur reveals stark reality of reopening

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Coronavirus: Toronto restaurateur reveals reality of impact of phase 2 reopening
WATCH ABOVE: As Toronto gets set to enter phase two of Ontario’s reopening process amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a Danforth Avenue restaurateur reveals the impact it will have on her business. As Caryn Lieberman reports, it may be a waste of time for her bottom line – Jun 23, 2020

Among those reopening for business on Wednesday in Toronto are restaurants and bars, however, with strict physical distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ginger Robertson, who has owned The Edmund Burke pub on the Danforth for four years, said Phase 2 will have little effect on her bottom line.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Danforth cafes, restaurants prepare to reopen as Toronto moves into Stage 2

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The pub only has a small front patio and will only be able to accommodate a few customers at a time.

“The public is under the impression that these things help us. Here’s a loan, more debt. Here’s rent relief. It’s in the hands of the landlord — they don’t have to participate. Most of us don’t qualify for it and most of us won’t get it and now Phase 2 with the patios, you can’t live off four customers a day,” she said.

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Adding to the pressure on Robertson is the fact that just one week before the provincial shutdown of non-essential business, she and her husband purchased a second restaurant.

Off the Hook is a fish and chips restaurant on Broadview Avenue, around the block from the pub.

Even with the city’s proposed $4-million plan ‘Destination Danforth’ to boost business in the area by creating more public spaces, allowing for more patio space and a new bike lane, Robertson said she has little hope anything will help.

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“It’s like a choose your own adventure patio, they’re all very confusing. I have an electrical pole in front of Off the Hook and I have a tree in front of the Edmund Burke,” she said.

READ MORE: Toronto, Peel Region move into Stage 2 of province’s reopening plan Wednesday

“You need to put the rent relief in our hands, you need to forgive those loans so we don’t start in debt, most of that money is gone for most people and they haven’t even opened yet,” she said, adding “now we have to buy patio furniture, now we have to restock our shelves, we have to refill our keg rooms.”

Chair of the Broadview Danforth Business Improvement Area (BIA), Albert Stortchak, who operates an antique lighting store, said the pandemic has been especially hard on small business and entering Phase 2 is no walk in the park either.

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“It means maintaining the cost level and bringing in very little revenue,” he said. “The businesses are reopening under such restrictive conditions that the cash flow is limited.”

Outside Robertson’s pub, Stortchak pointed to the front patio.

“If you have a small patio, you might get two people on it. If you have larger patio you might get six or eight,” he said.

Stortchak acknowledged the federal government has provided some relief programs but noted nothing will last forever.

“Next week the federal rent subsidy program expires … and then July, rent is due again … it’s unsustainable,” he said.

Unlike Robertson though, he views plans by the City to revitalize the Danforth as a positive step.

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“It’s almost like an economic recovery program … extended patios [and] curb lane patios. The bike lane will be separated by planters, so it could have a very European, a very inviting aspect to it and hopefully will bring people down to the Danforth,” he said.

For Robertson, real relief would mean utilizing a large space at the back of her restaurant as a patio, but to date, she has not been permitted to.

“Let us build patios wherever we can if you’re serious about helping us,” she said.

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