New fund looks to support London-Middlesex bars, restaurants through pandemic

A worker at Barney's patio on Richmond Street in London, Ont., cleans the bar on June 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart

London and Middlesex bar and restaurant operators impacted by the economic turmoil from the novel coronavirus pandemic have a new source of financial support thanks to a new initiative spearheaded by McCormick Canada.

The company’s food service-focused Club House for Chefs has enlisted the help of several local organizations to form a support fund that will offer up to $1,000 in financial grants, McCormick announced Thursday.

The fund aims to help cover the added expenses that come with reopening during the pandemic.

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McCormick kicked in $30,000 to start the fund, and has partnered with Pillar Nonprofit Network, Middlesex London Food Policy Council, rTraction and the Western Fair District as it looks to accumulate further contributions, all of which will go to local independent bar and restaurant operators.

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“The restaurant industry basically shut down as of mid-March unless you had takeout, and we saw sales and our restaurants struggling, and we just wanted to do something to help,” said Anna Stolee, Club House for Chef’s senior director of sales and marketing.

“We just wanted to do what we could to help restaurants as they struggle to reopen with the increased cost that they have for PPE or sanitization. Opening the patios and going into Phase 3 is helping. … It’s better, but it’s not good. They have a long road ahead of them to even return to any sort of normal.”

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According to figures released this week by Statistics Canada, it’s estimated that more than 4,600 businesses in Ontario’s accommodation and food services sector closed between February and the end of April. Nationally, the figure is around 11,000.

Local data for that specific sector isn’t available, but the agency estimates London saw about 1,018 businesses spanning various economic sectors close between February and April.

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The industry group Restaurants Canada says the accommodation and food service sector lost some 615,000 jobs nationally in March and April — more than any other employment sector.

While the industry has brought back nearly half of its lost jobs, it remains 308,900 jobs short as of this month.

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“The margins are very small these days,” said Pillar Nonprofit’s Paul Seale, a former restaurateur himself. “Contingency funds are never as large as they need to be. So a challenge like this can be really crippling enough to close the doors forever.”

Operating in food services alone is enough of a challenge without a global pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, he said.

“When this landed in my inbox… I’m a ‘the answer is yes. What’s the question?’ kind of guy anyway, but this was a definite yes when it showed up in my inbox,” Seale added.

“We love that this comes from a local enterprise. … We understand that the non-profit sector doesn’t own good. There’s amazing people in every sector prepared to help their neighbours. Sometimes we just need each other’s strengths to get good stuff done.”

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Residents and other businesses and organizations are being asked to contribute to the fund to help the local food services sector for as long as is needed.

Applications for the London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund open on Aug. 13.

Stolee says the fund is first come, first serve, and is open to independent owner-operator bars and restaurants. Catering operations, food trucks and franchise restaurants do not qualify.

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“The fund, the grants will be provided until the fund runs out. So we’re really hoping we can build the fund up again,” she said.

Those looking to apply for a grant or contribute to the fund can do so online.

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