The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a serious challenge to our cafe and bakery. As with all restaurants, we switched to take-out service only in the middle of March. This meant all food was to-go only with no inside seating. However, because of the fear surrounding the virus, that week proved to be the lowest sales we’ve seen in years – people just weren’t comfortable coming out to eat. So we took the next step and closed the cafe all together. Because of that, five people lost their jobs and two people cut their hours by more than half; there are now only about 40% of the hours on the schedule as there were in early March.
However, the Co-op is looking for ways to reopen the cafe later this month. Although the provincial state of emergency has been extended to May 12th, Premier Horgan has stated that some plans for reopening many sectors of our society are going to be announced during the first week in May. As these plans are developed, Dr. Bonnie Henry (Provincial Health Officer) asked the restaurant industry to come up with a plan to reopen safely, and the restaurant associations are working on several proposed measures.
This pause in cafe operations has allowed us to consider both how we can keep people safe and how the cafe can continue to evolve and grow. It seems like all of us are longing for food that someone else prepared! And so we’re getting ready to step up and fulfill that longing.
While I can’t yet speak yet to the specific protocols we’ll have in place – because we don’t yet have the details from the government – I can outline our overall vision for our new operation. We’re looking at a more integrated experience between the store and the cafe in the future – rather than the cafe being “closed” or “open” we’re going to make more cafe food available more of the time – perhaps every day of the week. We’re considering a variety of new foods to make available such as salads, dips, and sandwiches for our display cooler. For example, you can walk into the cafe, ask the cook to scoop you a certain amount of salad or bag up your favorite baked good, pay for it in the store, and take it home – much like a deli counter in a bigger grocery store.
Such a model allows us to be flexible – we can do it even without indoor seating or plexiglass shields. And we can build on this model as we see that the customers are coming back – for example, by bringing in another person to make espresso drinks. We can also enhance what we can offer through a selection of fine meats and cheeses like a traditional deli.
However, this doesn’t mean that we’re abandoning the old model altogether; you can expect a full service cafe as much as the regulations allow. In fact, we may open on Fridays later in May with hot food and espresso drinks. Some changes could last through the summer – such as outdoor seating and to-go containers all the time – but we do intend to be as open as possible some of the time.
What will the summer bring? We simply don’t know. In years past, we would go full-service seven days a week because we knew that was best for our customers. How many visitors will we have this year? How many staff will we have this year? How can we accommodate our customers while staying within whatever regulations are in place? We’ll are going to have to consider all of this carefully and make decisions as we go along, making the most of what we have at the time.
In the meantime, we’re looking for ways to satisfy that longing so that you don’t have to make your own food all the time. Imagine just stopping by for some fresh bread, hummus, and pasta salad along with some freshly-made cookies – all prepared for you by the Co-op! Coming soon!