Duckworth's Fish and Chips is taking a day-by-day approach to rebuilding its business after the COVID-19 pandemic closed the restaurant for almost a full calendar year.
The popular fish and chips eatery located at 750 Atherley Rd. closed in March 2020 after owner Matt Duckworth and his wife began to feel sick near the end of 2019.
“We aren’t exactly sure what we had, but near the end of 2019 we could’ve had mono, burnout, and we are pretty sure we had the (COVID-19) virus, which had us in pretty rough shape,” Duckworth explained.
“I was going to the doctor quite a bit and my wife was having trouble breathing which was unusual for us because we’ve always been pretty healthy. So, we had to take some time for ourselves," said Duckworth.
To put the icing on the cake, in early March of 2020 a customer who was a close contact with someone who contracted COVID-19 decided to attend the restaurant.
“My staff all freaked out, we had to sanitize the restaurant, and then we had to go get tested. That was the big thing that made us decide to close,” Duckworth said.
The restaurant stayed closed for 11 months as the Duckworths tried to get back to being 100 per cent healthy.
“As long as our health got better, we knew we would come back. So, once we decided we were feeling better we decided to get everything cleaned up and scrubbed down and we prepared to open again,” Duckworth explained.
“We opened toward the end of March which I felt was a good time because usually, that’s when business starts to pick up.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is still a challenge for Duckworth and his 14-year-old business and he said labour shortages have made it impossible for the restaurant to open for dine-in service.
“We’ve been doing limited hours, which is different as we used to be here 90 hours a week. And despite the dining room being closed the take-out has been good,” Duckworth said.
“Especially this summer, a lot of people came out to support us, and hopefully the dining room will be open within a month depending on how training goes with a couple of new people I’ve hired, but at least we are open.”
Duckworth says not all of his customers accepted the closure of the restaurant and dining room for a long period of time.
“Some people were empathetic, some people were a little ticked off, it was sort of a mixed reaction,” he said.
“We’ve been given a couple of bad reviews online about our new hours and being closed during the pandemic, which doesn’t sit too well with me. Believe me, it’s not like it’s something we wanted to do, and we’ve had to dip into our savings pretty heavily to get through the last 11 months," he explained.
Despite that, Duckworth says he understands disappointment from some long-time loyal customers.
“Some customers want to dine in because you get it hot, you get it fresh, and it’s an experience to go out to eat. I know we haven’t given our customers that option yet but hopefully, soon we will,” he said.
“We have a lot of customers who have supported us since day one, and I think they want to continue to support us because we are sort of a staple of this community now," said Duckworth.
While the business is still working on re-establishing itself, Duckworth says he has some concerns about the future of his fish and chips restaurant.
“The state of the oceans and the fisheries worries me a little bit. Halibut is going for a really crazy price right now,” he said.
“I worry about how viable halibut is going to be by this time next year or the year after because it is the main product that we sell. Right now, it’s very slim pickings and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”
Duckworth says his fingers are crossed that he can keep his restaurant going five to ten years from now, but he admits he is unsure if that is realistic as of today.
“Right now, we have to take it one day at a time because everything is so uncertain. Will there be another lockdown? Will we be able to find staff if there is another lockdown? It’s tough,” he said.
“We’ve put a lot into this business over the years and made it really viable. So, we are just hopeful that we will get continued support," he said.