The Latest Lockdown Sends Restaurants And Suppliers Back Into Pivot Mode
Restaurants aren’t the only ones having to pivot after the latest lockdown implemented by the BC Government.
Claire Livia Lassam is the owner of Livia Vino e Forno. Photo | Abby Wiseman
Gemma McNeill is fielding nervous text messages from chefs speculating whether or not a lockdown is about to be announced. She owns and operates Zaklan Heritage Farm, an organic farm in Surrey, and Monday is deadline day for orders. A couple of hours later, and without warning, the BC government announced that due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, indoor dining is cancelled – throwing restaurants back into ‘pivot mode.’
“My heart sank for everybody,” said McNeill. “I thought there was no way this was going to happen.”
Restaurants are once again dealing with a three-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown on indoor dining – the first significant lockdown since restrictions were lifted last May. Those fortunate enough to have a patio can continue to serve patrons outside. Initially, only full-service restaurants were allowed to operate, forcing cafes and breweries to move to takeout only model. After considerable backlash, the BC government rescinded that restriction.
Before the pandemic, Zaklan Heritage Farm serviced the restaurant industry exclusively. When the pandemic hit, they changed their model and went wholesale, selling some of their produce directly to consumers through grocery delivery service Legends Haul. Without it, they would have been down by 50 per cent of their customers.
“Last year was very worrying, but we saw such amazing support from the restaurant community,” said McNeill. “They were all changing to grocery bag systems, and we felt really taken care of in that community. Even with such small margins, they were still choosing to support local farms.”
Now it’s McNeill’s opportunity to support her customers, many of them friends, by allowing them to cancel orders if necessary – a surprisingly few did as they scrambled to open patios and move to takeout.
“Luckily for us, we are not in full production at this point in the season, and we don’t have thousands of pounds of produce that we have to move,” said McNeill.
Photo | Courtesy of Zaklan Heritage Farm
Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson is the executive chef of Published on Main and one of McNeill’s regular customers. He spent most of the day after the announcement turning away orders of Dungeness crab and throwing out what perishable items can’t be turned pastrami or preserved.
“I think everyone is pretty sympathetic to the fact that it was such a bullshit closure that they are doing what they can to help us out,” said Stieffenhofer-Brandson. “We’re being as creative as we can to mitigate waste, but some of that stuff is just going to go in the bin.”
For a fine-dining restaurant like Published, the loss in revenue from the lockdown, according to Stieffenhofer-Brandson, will be over six figures – a big financial blow for a new restaurant getting its footing during a global pandemic.
“It’s miserable. It’s such a kick when you are just trying to make it through,” said Stieffenhofer-Brandson. “It’s like running full tilt into a brick wall, so it’s a bit of a shock to the system.”
On Wednesday, when we spoke to Stieffenhofer-Brandson, he was contemplating whether it was worth it to open the patio or to just pivot the menu to takeout only. A day later, the restaurant announced they would open the patio and offer a new takeout-friendly menu.
“I think they [the BC Government] just needs to look at why and how they are doing this right now,” said Stieffenhofer-Brandson. “A closure like this can make the difference between places being able to stay open and places needing to shut down.”
Claire Livia Lassam, owner of Livia Forno e Vino on Commercial Drive, expresses similar frustration over the sudden lockdown.
“Here, everyone is really careful of social distancing,” said Lassam. “We all have spent thousands of dollars on dividers, and it’s really frustrating to be locked down when there is no evidence that restaurants are increasing numbers.”
“Meanwhile, people don’t have to limit their bubbles, and restaurant workers are not being bumped up the line to get their vaccines. It’s like, give us a break.”
Lassam is the first to say that she is fortunate in this situation. Not only does she have a patio and a near-constant stream of patrons lining up outside her takeout window, but she also has a product – bread – that is a wholesale darling. When the pandemic first shut down the bakery, she switched gears by supplying more restaurants and grocery delivery services like, once again, Legends Haul.
“This has proven that if you are a restaurant, you have to have multiple revenue streams,” said Lassam. “We’ll be fine, we’ll make less money, but we will survive. My concern is for other restaurants that aren’t suited for takeout.”
Friends of Legends
Alex Ploughman feels like he has deja vu. A year ago, the bottom nearly fell out of his new food delivery service – Legends Haul.
“We were only a year old when this happened last year, and we were just figuring things out and getting the business to where we wanted it to be, and then everything shut down, and we freaked out and stayed up for weeks on end trying to figure out what to do,” said Ploughman.
Back then, the business serviced only restaurants with high-end ingredients, so they decided to switch up by bringing restaurant-quality ingredients and straight-up restaurant food to homes. Now, Ploughman and his business partner Craig Sheridan have 45 employees and have moved into an ample warehouse space.
When the announcement came down on Monday, Ploughman, a former chef, put the call out to the network of chefs and restaurateurs that Legends Haul will sell whatever they want to make.
“I said don’t waste your food, figure something out,” said Ploughman. “We are going really to promote them and hopefully double all the sales so they can keep people still working and still busy.”
The last year has proven to Ploughman, a chef by trade, that restaurants need to diversify to survive and sometimes thrive.
“A restaurant is not just a place where you can go to dine,” said Ploughman. “Restaurants can leverage their brand to produce these products and have them going into households. We’re helping them on the wholesale side to grow and get into more retailers to make it a significant part of their business.”
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