Fund to support pandemic-hit London-Middlesex eateries dishes out first grants

Workers at The Morrissey House in London, Ont., in June 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart

A fund launched to help local bar and restaurant operators hit by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to make an impact.

Since it was announced earlier this month, the London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund has already doled out $1,000 grants to 27 establishments in the region as of this week, according to officials involved with the initiative. Twenty-one of the businesses are in London, while six are elsewhere in the county.

The fund, spearheaded by McCormick Canada and its food service-focused Club House for Chefs, aims to help cover the added expenses that come with reopening and staying open during the pandemic.

“The food industry, the restaurant industry specifically, is notorious for being challenging in good times to make margins,” said Richie Bloomfield of Sidetrack: A Wortley Café. The Wortley Village business is among the 27 receiving money from the fund.

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“Going through a three-month shutdown, reopening in what we now know are pretty uncertain times, all of that just adds to the challenge, so absolutely every little bit counts, for sure.”

McCormick kicked in $30,000 to start the fund, and partnered with Pillar Nonprofit Network, Middlesex-London Food Policy Council (MLFPC), rTraction and the Western Fair District to accumulate further contributions.

The fund is first come, first serve, and is open to independent owner-operator bars and restaurants. The MLFPC is adjudicating the funding applications, and a second grant announcement is expected this week.

According to Anna Stolee, Club House for Chef’s senior director of sales and marketing, four other organizations have contributed to the fund since McCormick’s initial seed, including Libro Credit Union, Haymach Canada, Tourism London, and Total Focus Foodservice Sales and Marketing.

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As of Tuesday, a total of $37,500 had been raised, and 32 applications for grant money had been approved, including the 27 who already received funding.

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Paul Seale of Pillar Nonprofit says the main focus right now is getting more contributions added to the fund to keep the initiative going. Grants are set to be handed out until the fund dries up.

“We’ve got enough applications in now to nearly exhaust the funds available,” he said.

“We’re hoping a few more local enterprises have some dollars to spare to help our restaurant industry.”

Seale adds that businesses receiving money are able to use the $1,000 as they see fit.

“We’re not asking people to prove how they spent it. We know that it costs money for plexiglass, separations, it costs money for theatre ropes, it costs money for directional arrows, it costs money for sanitiser and masks. Nobody is going to have a hard time spending $1,000,” he said.

A vast majority of those applying, some 95 per cent, have stated they plan to spend the money on purchasing PPE, sanitization centres and plexiglass barriers, according to Thomas Sumpter, MLFPC’s treasurer and chair of the adjudication committee.

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Bloomfield says that while he hopes the worst of the pandemic has come and gone, the future remains as uncertain as it did a few months ago for Sidetrack and for other businesses.

“We don’t know what this is going to look like in the winter, what it’s gonna look like next year. We’re definitely not out of the woods yet, that’s for sure,” he said.

“We are currently operating exclusively a patio and takeout window, which has been received very well in Wortley Village. But we know that we can’t do that in the winter.

“We’re going to try to make it work with spaced seating inside and… make sure we have proper sanitation for our staff and customers. But that’s based on current knowledge of what we know today. And that could all change, as we know, very quickly.”

Figures released earlier this month by Statistics Canada estimated that more than 4,600 businesses in Ontario’s accommodation and food services sector, and 11,000 across Canada, closed between February and the end of April.

Local data for that specific sector wasn’t available, but the agency estimated London saw about 1,018 businesses spanning various economic sectors close in that same time period.

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That’s evident looking at the number of applications the fund received within three days of its Aug. 13 opening: 27.

The industry group Restaurants Canada has estimated that the accommodation and food service sector lost some 615,000 jobs nationally in March and April. Of those, 308,900 remained lost as of this month.

“Restaurants are where we celebrate. Restaurants are where we experience other cultures. Restaurants are important employers, they’re important community hubs, they’re family operated businesses,” Seale said.

“All of those things mean that, you know, this fund is also a way to draw all Londoners’ attention to the importance of restaurants in our daily lives and how much we’d like them to keep being there.”

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

The following is a list provided by McCormick Canada of the restaurants who received funding as part of the first round of grants:

  1. The Morrissey House
  2. The Green Window
  3. Locomotive Espresso
  4. James’ Place Restaurant
  5. The Tea Lounge
  6. MJ’s Roadhouse (Lucan)
  7. Curley Brewing Company
  8. Palasad Billiards Limited
  9. Rusty Wrench Brewing Co (Strathroy)
  10. Grace Restaurant
  11. Milos Craft Beer Emporium
  12. Eat.OA!
  13. Willie’s Cafe
  14. Momo’s at the Market
  15. Blackfriars Bistro
  16. The Village Teapot (Ilderton)
  17. The Gourmet Deli
  18. Cafe Artiste
  19. Village Pantry Restaurant
  20. Sidetrack: A Wortley Café
  21. Grad Club
  22. The Mill Pond Tap and Grill (Dorchester)
  23. Zen’za Pizzeria
  24. Globally Local
  25. Thorndale Family Restaurant (Thorndale)
  26. Malibu Restaurant
  27. Salt & Peppers (Strathroy)

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