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Saint John restaurant to close, explore new business model as pandemic drags on

Click to play video: 'Saint John businesses forced to reinvent model as pandemic drags on'
Saint John businesses forced to reinvent model as pandemic drags on
WATCH: A small restaurant in Saint John, Ethel and Mary’s, is closing as the owners try to reinvent their business model. Local business leaders say it’s prat of a growing trend at this stage of the pandemic. – Oct 14, 2021

A small restaurant and bakery in Saint John is closing its doors at the end of October.

But the owner of Ethel and Mary’s, Matthew Elliott, insists customers have not seen the last of the brand.

Elliott had the opportunity Thursday to greet regulars for the first time since he broke the news on social media earlier in the week.

“It was good, actually,” he said of the foot traffic. “Yeah, it was a pretty busy day. It was nice seeing a lot of regulars, making sure they get in for that slammer before they miss their chance.”

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Ethel and Mary’s opened on Feb. 25, 2020, about three weeks before COVID-19 became a global pandemic.

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Elliott said that limited his ability to establish and grow his customer base and made staffing a challenge. Cash flow was limited.

He said the business struggled to survive 2020. Last November, he laid off all of his staff and manned the restaurant himself for five months until the spring.

Even though he was able to bring back staff, he said he’s physically and mentally worn out. He also said he doesn’t see a clear end to the pandemic, making it more difficult to try to continue to survive.

But Elliott said the Ethel and Mary’s brand, named after his grandmothers, is not going away.

He said he’s planning to take the next few months to work out a new plan for the business, and is leaning toward the non-profit sector.

“For me, it makes more sense to take a beat, take some much, much needed rest and re-evaluate the situation,” Elliott said.

“We have a lot of partners in the community that want to help us to the next step, whatever it may be.”

David Duplisea, CEO of The Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce, said this type of move is becoming more common during the pandemic.

He said many restaurateurs seem willing to take a step back as they look into the future.

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“Those people are rising above and they’re meeting the challenges, reinventing themselves and re-pivoting,” Duplisea said.

“As we start to hear more and more of these stories, they’re not necessarily negative stories. They’re successful entrepreneurs that are looking at ways to survive and that’s, I’m sure, what Ethel and Mary’s are doing right now.”

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The industry is still struggling through the pandemic, according to Restaurants Canada.

Atlantic vice-president Luc Erjavec said 10,000 restaurants nationwide have closed. He said that’s about one out of every nine restaurants in the country.

Erjavec said recent Restaurants Canada surveys show 46 per cent of restaurants are still losing money.

“Many operators are just at their wit’s end and are really unsure what winter’s going to bring and how they’re going to get through the winter after accumulating so much debt and not building up the cash reserves which we traditionally need in Atlantic Canada to get through a long, tough winter,” Erjavec said.

Restaurants Canada has called on the federal government to extend wage and rent subsidies, set to expire next week, into 2022.

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