Local restaurants are serving a helping of relief to their customers this week, as they were allowed to reopen Monday at 50 percent capacity.
George’s Country Style Restaurant on Colborne Street West has been busy over the last couple of days serving their regular customers, says owner Gus Diamantakos.
“Nobody is afraid,” he said. “We’ve seen pretty much everybody who was coming before. I think everybody is done with this.”
Diamantakos says operating the business at 50 percent capacity is viable for his eatery. In fact, they will be staying at 50 percent capacity going forward.
“We are staffing it good this way,” he said. “It also allows us to have better flow. It just works better.”
While customers have been eager to dine-in once again, Diamantakos says his four staff members are also excited to be back working at the eatery.
“They depend on the tips, and they need somewhere to go,” he said. “I’ve had staff who have been here for 30 years.”
While staffing is no issue for the restaurant, Diamantakos is bracing for inflation challenges related to increased food costs.
“The supply is good, but the pricing is high,” Diamantakos explained. “They always say there is a shortage of something and then the prices get raised. Once they establish a price for something they keep it around there.”
Diamantakos says products are ranging from 15 to 30 percent higher due to inflation, which will result in customers having to pay more for their meals going forward.
“Right now, we are doing it to just pay the bills and break even,” Diamantakos said.
Despite George’s having a successful re-opening, not all restaurants had the same luck on Monday. Sanafir Mediterranean Restaurant owner, Samir Hanna, says Monday was “way too slow.”
“It could be the weather,” he said. “Or it could be that people are starting to get their bills from Christmas shopping ... I don’t know.”
Hanna says being open at 50 percent capacity is viable for now, but he is hopeful that his restaurant will be back to full capacity for tourists in the spring and summertime.
“On the weekends we will be busy too,” he said. “We already have a lot of reservations for the weekends.”
Staffing is the biggest challenge for Hanna, who is working ten-hour shifts six days a week with only one server and no kitchen help.
“It’s because of the way the government pays money for nothing,” Hanna said. “They give people money to stay home and be lazy. Why should anyone go work if they can get the same amount of money with no effort?”
Hanna says higher food costs are also making things extremely difficult for his business.
“The food costs are massive,” he said. "Some places have had to cut down on their portions, some places have kept their portions with a massive increase in price. Either way, it’s not going to make people happy.”
For the first time in four years, Hanna has had to adjust his pricing. For example, he says a jug of oil used to cost $16, now it costs close to $48.
“I’m not sure how people are actually going to survive in this business,” he said. “We just have to hope things will return to normal.”
Like George's, Hill’s Maple Leaf Restaurant on Memorial Avenue was still open during the lockdown for take-out-only options. However, owner Tony Hill says take-out isn’t viable long-term.
“It kept some of the staff employed,” he said. “Now that we are re-opened, I’ve recalled all staff members, and everybody is back working."
Hill's employs around 24 people; 10 were laid off during the lockdown.
“They are happy to be back to work,” Hill said. “It’s pretty boring just sitting at home.”
Hill says the restaurant has been busy over the last couple of days and says it’s nice to be serving the community once again.
“It’s been good so far,” he said. “It would be better if we could be at 100 percent capacity, but 50 is OK. We are looking forward to this weekend.”
Hill says the restaurant has also remained busy with its take-out options.
“Some people are still apprehensive,” he said. “I cooked a breakfast for a lady here this morning and I asked her if she was coming in and she said not yet. She got it to go, sat in her car, and ate it in the parking lot.”
The increased in food costs will likely force Hill's to raise menu prices, Hill said.
“It’s crazy how much bacon, turkey, and even roast and ground beef cost now,” he said.” Everything has gone up nearly 50 percent.”