Kingston restaurant owner Casey Fisher says people in his industry are in dire straits, fighting to keep their businesses during COVID-19, despite government loans.
“[Restaurant owners] are spending a lot of money they don’t have,” he told the Kingstonist on Friday, May 29, 2020. “We are all financed to the max trying to pull ourselves through this and to give ourselves the hope of having livelihood, and our employees as well. It becomes a question of how far down the rabbit hole do you go?”
According to the Government of Canada, The Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) provides interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits, “to help cover their operating costs during a period where their revenues have been temporarily reduced.”
Business owners apply for the loan directly through their banks.
Fisher said he had no choice but to apply to pay staff and suppliers, but says it’s “no where near enough.”
Depending on the size of their operation, he said, restaurant owners face a weekly decision “whether or not to lose another $10,000 in the hopes that you’re going to reopen.”
“Insurance, utilities, rent, property tax, banking fees, keeping your phone on, your internet on… the list goes on and on,” he said. “These expenses just don’t change.”
Fisher said in light of his annual tax contributions over the years, the value of the loan was disappointing.
“When I’m looking at our direct tax contributions for my two restaurants, the Wolfe Island Grill and the Mansion, we have provided pretty consistently for the past 10 years about $1 million dollars a year in direct tax contributions to the government,” he said.
“To be given a $40K loan to get out of this, it’s nowhere near enough… We had less debt in year two of business, year three of business, than we have now.”
Fisher said he has thrown out nearly $40 thousand in product during the pandemic, in addition to the mounting bills.
“We have a large bar, had forty-some tapped kegs. They all became garbage. We had four floors worth of bars stocked with bottles. All those bottles have a three-month shelf life. They’re all garbage.”
Restaurant for sale
Fisher listed his Princess Street restaurant and concert venue, the Mansion, for sale over a year ago, after over 11 years of operation. This week, he made the decision to drastically drop the price because “it has been worth drastically less since COVID-19.”
Beyond that, the owners also removed a clause that would require the buyer to continue to operate the business as a concert venue, something they feel very strongly about on a personal level, Fisher expressed.
“We feel it’s an important part of the culture of Kingston, and the Canadian live music scene because we’re part of that circuit,” he said. But with concerts likely cancelled for the next year or more, it seemed impractical to maintain as a requirement.
“Where we are, we’ve got a great landlord, so if the place doesn’t sell, we will absolutely continue it and run it as the Mansion. That is the plan right now.”
He said they’re hoping to continue live entertainment outdoors on the patio, with social distancing. “We plan to maintain our structure and our formula and continue everything that we stand for,” he said. “I think a lot of people [have seen the listing and think] that the Mansion is gone, but that is not the case. The Mansion is still there.”
Fisher said he does not expect anyone to buy the business before they are allowed to reopen, and they may increase the price again depending on how strongly business returns. For now, a notoriously tough industry just keeps getting tougher.
“It’s all on the line. Restaurants have always been that way, but now more than ever,” he said.
“Anyone who has made it this far is likely going to be working for the next decade to pay off debts from COVID-19.”