A popular Washago eatery has been forced to permanently close after serving as a community hub for eight years.
R Cottage Restaurant, located on Muskoka Street, was owned and operated by James Cameron after he purchased it from Sarah and Ian Valiquette, who started the eatery.
Cameron says rising labour costs, that jumped from $12 to $15 an hour, were among the many hurdles the restaurant faced in recent months. But it was inflation and the inability to find staff that proved the death knell.
“Labour shortages were a big thing,” he said. “We couldn’t get cooks, dishwashers, or really anybody to work right now.”
While R Cottage had a “great core” of staff, they were very limited, Cameron says.
“The other big thing was food costs increasing,” he said. “Inflation is astronomical and soaring out of control.”
The frustrated local business owner said he faced a 53 percent increase in the cost of meat and a 43 percent increase in the price of dairy products.
“We increased our prices six times on the menu this year,” he said. “It was a losing battle.”
During the busy summer months, R Cottage employed 22 people.
“They are extremely disappointed,” Cameron said. “We all turned into a family, we are all very close, and we had each other’s backs.”
Cameron says the closure of the business is equally as “devastating” for customers and community members.
“The outpouring of support for the restaurant has been insane,” he said. “It’s been one thing after another about how great the food was, the staff was, how great the restaurant was, and how amazing it was for the community.”
At the end of the day, Cameron had no choice but to fold the business.
“I was bailing it out with my construction company,” he said. “It was very tough keeping the business going knowing that it wasn’t getting any better.”
Cameron says it’s not just his business that is suffering the impacts of inflation and labour shortages. Other local businesses in the community are also struggling to keep afloat, he explained.
“Profit margins are like five percent instead of being 30 to 40 percent,” he said. “The only thing that is going to be left is the chain restaurants and big box stores.”
The impact of local restaurants closing will be felt community-wide, Cameron says.
“People who baked our pies, people who grew herbs for us, and local chicken suppliers are devastated,” he said. “We all supported them and kept them working, and soon there will be nobody left to do that."