In their quest to stay afloat, Ontario restaurants, bars, pubs, pool halls and sports bars stricken by pandemic closures could be eligible to receive a financial lifeline by way of a one-time $5,000 grant funded by corporate sponsors and the patrons who enjoy their delicious meals, divine cocktails, and atmospheres.
"This is a grant — it’s not a loan. It doesn’t need to be repaid," explains Tony Carvalho, a founding member of the Restaurant & Bar Support Fund.
Qualified applicants will receive a one-time grant of up to $5,000 to assist them in the reopening of their business. Priority is given to applicants who demonstrate a commitment to their staff and neighbourhood. Applications will be available starting March 16 and grants will be awarded after March 31. All grant decisions will be made within 10 business days of receiving the necessary application information.
Bonnie Zufelt, owner of Partners Billiards & Bowling says she maintains a business relationship with Toronto-based Carvalho and has agreed to serve as an advisor for the fund in an effort to support the owners and employees of North Bay's establishments and province-wide.
"My involvement is going to be helping others," says Zufelt, who will forego any grant money to sit on the committee. "At the end of the day, being able to try to help our whole industry was more important."
Zufelt expects appeals to the corporate industry, with all its different sectors that serve as suppliers or sell products in hospitality, to help the fund grow. After all, if as many places have to close as some are predicting, it affects the bottom line of the industry as a whole in many ancillary ways.
She says if you love eating at a local restaurant, having a cold one at a nearby pub, or enjoy watching the game at a local sports bar, you are asked to support your local establishments with donations to the fund, if you can.
"For a lot of us, it will be like starting up all over again," she says. "You work hard all your life and it's like starting from scratch. We, as an industry, are among the hardest hit."
Even Friday's announcement North Bay and district would enter the provincial framework and find itself classified in the red zone did not bring any solace to Zufelt. She fears mass vaccination, which might not occur until fall, will make for a long, frustrating summer for the hospitality industry.
"That's 10 people inside in the red zone. I don't think anyone is opening up for that," she says. "I can't imagine any bar or restaurant that can survive on that right now. Hopefully that won't last too long."
See related story from September 2020: Restrictions for restaurants, strip clubs tightened as COVID-19 cases rise
See also, from August 2020: Restaurant tents an example of teamwork, cooperation and innovation
Carvalho advises, "We are Ontarians helping fellow Ontarians and we are committed to supporting as many small businesses and entrepreneurs as we can through this difficult period of time. Our Fund will pay out one-time grants to these businesses so that they can keep their doors open, keep staff employed, and keep the smiles on their customers' faces."
See related story from October 2020: Ford releases details on funding for restaurants, businesses impacted by COVID-19
See also, from March 2020: Local restaurants respond to State of Emergency
The Restaurant & Bar Support Fund aims to raise as much as $5 million for Ontario restaurants, bars, pubs, pool halls and sports bars. It will be funded by the corporate support of hospitality suppliers and the donations of patrons and is a registered not-for-profit established by "concerned individuals who do not want to see the predicted numbers of closures and bankruptcies in Ontario’s food and beverage sector."
Hockey legend Daryl Sittler is on board to endorse the fund, with a stated mission of "supporting as many Ontario food and beverage establishments as possible and raise greater awareness of the value of small businesses to the local economy and social scene."
Sittler is enthusiastic about the endeavour and other celebrity supporters are expected to be named soon.
"This is a great initiative to help our local restaurants, pubs, and sport bars that mean so much both to our neighbourhoods and communities," he says in a news release. "These small establishment owners are finding it very challenging right now. We hope the grant money will make a difference for them."
A recent Restaurant Canada survey found that nearly half of food service operators expect to permanently close their establishments within six months if conditions do not improve.
Other findings from the November/December 2020 Restaurants Canada survey:
- 80% of restaurants are either losing money or barely scraping by
- 65% are continuing to operate at a loss, while 19% are just breaking even
- 63% of food service businesses that are losing money expect to take at least a year to return to profitability
- 56% of multi-unit operators said they expect to close at least one of their locations within the same time period
Last June, North Bay City Council voted unanimously in favour of waiving fees connected to creating or expanding outdoor patio spaces. A similar initiative appears on the Council agenda for a vote at next Tuesday's regular meeting to cover this year's outdoor dining season.
See related story from June 2020: Singing and dancing on patios forbidden — instrumental music allowed?
Organizers say the new private sector relief fund is now open to help support as many Ontario food and beverage establishments as possible in reopening and recovering from the financial setbacks of the pandemic. The goals over the next 12 months are to raise $5 million and to assist a minimum of 1,000 Ontario food and beverage businesses. All money received by the fund will be distributed.
The Restaurant & Bar Support Fund website has full details for both businesses seeking assistance and for donors looking to contribute at www.RestaurantandBarSupportFund.ca.
"We are asking patrons to donate the cost of a meal out, if you can," says Zufelt. "And, like, share, follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to spread this fund far and wide. We are appreciative of your support. It will go a long way."