Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Talia Syrie, owner of the Tallest Poppy, in her closed restaurant/bar in Winnipeg on April 17, 2020.

JOHN WOODS/The Globe and Mail

Restaurant and bar owners on the Prairies are pleading with governments for more support, arguing that loans and wage subsidies don’t go far enough to protect them from collapse during the COVID-19 pandemic. And even when they are allowed to reopen, they worry continued restrictions will cut into revenues for the foreseeable future.

The industry has been almost entirely shut down as part of broad efforts to keep people separated. Some establishments have been able to transition to takeout and delivery to make up a sliver of their lost revenues, but the industry has faced mass layoffs and questions about what will be left when restrictions are lifted.

Leslie Echino, the owner of Blink, Bar Annabelle and Annabelle’s Kitchen in Calgary, was in France at the end of February, as things were being shuttered there, and she saw the writing on the wall for what would happen to restaurants in Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

By the first week of March, her restaurants were doing a fraction of their normal sales. She closed both Blink and Bar Annabelle on March 12, and her third restaurant three days later.

“April 1 came really, really quickly,” says Ms. Echino, who is also a board member with Restaurants Canada. “When your new takeout model is only really 18 to 20 per cent of your gross revenue and fixed costs like rent, taxes and utilities remain the same, you’re still at a loss while you’re continuing to operate.”

To help advocate for hospitality businesses across Alberta, she, along with Brett Ireland, co-owner of Last Best Brewing and Distilling and Ernie Tsu, co-owner Trolley 5 Brewpub, formed the Alberta Hospitality Association. Since launching early last week, the initiative is meant to generate support from the provincial and federal governments.

While those governments haven’t targeted any aid packages specifically to the food industry, they have announced several programs designed to help small businesses such as bars and restaurants. Those include a wage subsidy of 75 per cent for businesses that experience a sudden drop in revenues; loan guarantees through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada; and interest-free loans through the Canada Emergency Business Account.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a commercial rent-relief program, which is expected to include loans to property owners to cover rent charges, although there were few details.

The Alberta government has offered deferrals on taxes and utility payments for businesses.

Ms. Echino noted the hospitality industry is the third-largest in Alberta and employs more 130,000 people – of which, an estimated three-quarters have been laid off.

Story continues below advertisement

“We want to help voice what it is we need now as a hospitality industry and how we can get the attention from our governments,” she said.

"The force majeure in lease agreements don’t cover this situation and business insurance doesn’t either. Most restaurant owners only have the means to operate in this current situation for a month longer at best.”

She said deferrals of utility bills and other monthly costs may be a temporary solution, but not realistic when a restaurant is faced with having to pay those costs eventually. The newly founded association, as well as other initiatives such as SaveHospitalityCA, will continue to lobby for further aid following the rent-relief plans that were announced Thursday.

James Ballantyne, who owns the popular Ship and Anchor pub in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood, warned that bars that rely primarily on alcohol sales may not be able to recover with the government support currently available. For example, if physical-distancing requirements continue after businesses are allowed to reopen, it would be impossible for bars to achieve the sales they had before the pandemic.

“It would be difficult to achieve [half of the] normal revenue under those conditions," he said. "What business can continue to operate on 50-per-cent revenue with many fixed costs that haven’t changed?”

He also argues that wage subsidies also won’t be adequate when there are so many other non-wage-related costs involved with a restaurant or bar.

Story continues below advertisement

There is no downside to providing help to hospitality. The money is going to flow directly through to retail landlords, suppliers and staff; all of whom need the help in their own right and are part of the economic fabric on which we all depend,” he says.

In Winnipeg, restaurateur Talia Syrie said community leaders were well ahead of their provincial government in terms of closing their doors or restricting business services. It was only April 1 that restaurants were told to stop sit-down dining completely,

The Tallest Poppy, a small restaurant that also focuses on supporting community art endeavours, is a restaurant that can’t afford to be temporarily closed, but Ms. Syrie did so weeks before the provincial mandate.

“I always say that tomorrow pays for today,” Ms. Syrie said.

She said she is looking at reopening to offer takeout, so she appreciates the option to tap into the federal loan programs.

“You don’t just turn on the lights, turn on the coffee maker and you’re off to the races. I have nothing. It’s money that will help restock our kitchen and pay my staff for three days to prep things until we are ready to open again,” she said. “[The loan] does make a difference.”

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Syrie said she considers herself one of the lucky ones during these tumultuous times because of a good relationship with her landlord, but knows that the restaurant industry desperately needs rent relief.

“I don’t think there will ever be an ideal situation that suits every restaurateur. Saying what ‘a restaurant’ needs is like saying ‘a house’ or ‘a car’ … you can’t compare what I have to an Earls or a restaurant like Segovia or the bakery place down the road,” Ms. Syrie said. “We’re all like snowflakes.”

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies