October 24, 2020

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Restaurant owners seek pandemic assistance at city hall

Wow Hospitality owner Doug Stephen, backed by other restaurant owners and Coun. Kevin Klein (right), says without helpful landlords and bank officials his restaurants wouldn't have survived. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Wow Hospitality owner Doug Stephen, backed by other restaurant owners and Coun. Kevin Klein (right), says without helpful landlords and bank officials his restaurants wouldn't have survived. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

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Cancelled events, empty tables and plummeting profits are hitting Winnipeg’s restaurant and hospitality industry once again, as heightened pandemic restrictions reduce gathering limits, business owners say.

A few of the impacted companies brought their concerns to city hall Monday in the hopes of finding some financial relief.

On Sept. 28, the province raised Winnipeg’s pandemic response level to orange or "restricted" to cope with a surge in COVID-19 cases. The public health decision has limited gatherings in the city to 10 or fewer people and made face masks mandatory at all indoor public places.

Ray Louie, owner and manager of the Gates on Roblin, said all but one of the site’s 32 events scheduled for October has now been cancelled. He's now struggling to keep staff after once hoping fall demand could offset earlier pandemic losses.

"Our second quarter was down 90 per cent. By the middle of July, I was down $2 million from last year," he said.

The business owner, whose site is typically a wedding hot spot, said he currently has 19 staff, while he’d hoped to keep between 60 and 70 into the fall.

Tony Siwicki, owner of Silver Heights Restaurant and Lounge, said his restaurant had begun its pandemic recovery when "code orange" took effect.

"We’ve lost pretty much every reservation… We’re in a lot of trouble, so we’re asking for some help, for financial assistance," said Siwicki. "Fear out there is really stopping people from coming in, they’re getting shamed (about going) to restaurants. There’s going to be a lot more (industry) closures."

His site logged a 60 per cent decline in sales after the latest restrictions took effect, he said.

Ray Louie, owner of Gates on Roblin, says all but one of the site’s 32 events scheduled for October has been cancelled. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Ray Louie, owner of Gates on Roblin, says all but one of the site’s 32 events scheduled for October has been cancelled. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Doug Stephen, president of Wow Hospitality Concepts, said he’s been fortunate to see close-to-normal sales at some restaurants, though his company’s downtown dining locations have suffered.

Some landlords and bank officials have helped his restaurants survive, without which he "probably wouldn’t have a company right now," he said, noting sales declines are happening just as restaurants spend more on personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning.

"We’re trying to look at every opportunity that we can to recover some of those costs," he said.

The group came to city hall to support a tax-break proposal aimed to assist their businesses. Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) called for council to approve a 10 per cent discount on 2020 property and business taxes for all restaurants who pay their full bills by Nov. 30.

"They are one of the hardest hit industries in our province and in our city," said Klein.

The motion was defeated Monday by council’s Assiniboia community committee.

Committee member Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) said he didn’t believe it was fair for council to provide financial help to just one type of business.

"There have been many industries that have been affected (by COVID-19), so to provide additional relief just to one industry would be hard to justify," said Gillingham, council’s finance chairman.

He noted the city is waiving late fees for all business and property taxes paid by Nov. 30 to help offset pandemic losses. Business taxes were originally due May 29, while property taxes were originally due June 30.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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Updated on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 at 9:45 AM CDT: Corrects photo cutline

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