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Nisku diner struggling to pay rent gets massive boost after plea for help

Click to play video: 'Albertans give back despite tough economic year' Albertans give back despite tough economic year
The crippling financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic may be far from over, but that isn't stopping the generosity of Edmontonians. People are stepping up in big ways: donating big bucks to charities even showing support for one restaurant on the brink of shutting its doors. Chris Chacon reports – Jan 28, 2021

The crippling financial impacts of COVID-19 may be far from over, but that isn’t stopping the generosity of Albertans.

South of Edmonton, in the Nisku industrial area, Saskitoba Diner is a family-run business serving traditional diner food with an emphasis on Ukrainian favourites.

The diner opened at the end of February — just weeks before the pandemic was declared — and has been abiding by public health guidelines. The first lockdown happened as the eatery was still trying to find its footing as a new business.

Read more: Some Alberta businesses prepare to reopen as restrictions ease; 750 COVID-19 cases identified Sunday

The diner reopened in the summer and fall, but as COVID-19 case counts rose and more people began working from home, business dropped off.

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“We sometimes would only do five or six orders in an entire day,” owner Candy Galay said, adding they started closing early because they weren’t making enough money to pay the bills.

Since restrictions on restaurants were put in place in late 2020, the diner has fallen on hard times: as a new business without any year-over-year financial data to prove a decline in revenue, Saskitoba Diner was not able to secure government supports.

Desperate for help, Galay made a plea for help on Facebook Wednesday afternoon, posting a “help us pay the rent” event.

The response received was unexpected and overwhelming. Just over 24 hours later, the post had been shared more than 3,000 times, and received hundreds of comments and reactions.

That viral response has translated into a lot of hungry customers.

“I don’t want to get emotional, but as you can hear, this phone is ringing off the hook,” Galay said, gesturing towards a phone that did not stop ringing the entire time Global News was at the eatery.

She said once the orders started, they haven’t since stopped pinching perogies, portioning meals and praying customers don’t fall through the cracks.

“(On Wednesday) we did a grand total of about $300 in sales,” Galay said, adding by Thursday morning the eatery “had $300 in sales by 9 a.m.”

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Staff prepping food at Saskitoba Diner in Nisku, Alta. on January 28, 2021. Global News

Galay went from worrying about paying rent, to now worrying about keeping up with demand. As of Thursday morning, there were hundreds of emails and messages she had not gotten around to checking yet.

“This boost today is amazing, it’s certainly going to help us get through February — pay our bills, pay our rent,” Galay said. “We’re overwhelmed and super grateful.”

“If we would have not gotten this response, the next phone call today would have been to our landlord, to tell them to please hold off on the rent until we could come up with it.”

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When supporters who saw the Facebook post couldn’t get through to order by phone, they just showed up to the business on 15 Avenue and 8 Street in Nisku.

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“Things are tight right now, so I think it’s the right thing to do — spend money in a place like this as opposed to something owned out of country,” patron Tony McWilliam said.

“I think it’s amazing the community can come together for them,” customer Kim Dempsey added.

Read more: Alberta’s hospitality industry pushes for reopening of restaurants, bars amid COVID-19

Galay said she owes this lifeline to the kindness and generosity of complete strangers.

“I want to acknowledge every single order that we’ve gotten and say ‘thank you,’ because we know that times are tough for everybody,” she said.

“For someone to take their hard-earned money and give it out to someone that’s struggling — it does not go unnoticed.”

Saskitoba Diner owner Candy Galay taking an order over the phone at her business in Nisku, Alta. on January 28, 2021. Global News

Galay now asks people to support other small businesses who have not been as fortunate.

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“We’re all in this together, so please go and pay it forward (to) any business that is out there today, looking for somebody to come in.”

Read more: Edmonton restaurants encourage pick-up orders as dine-in closes

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