The COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly and dramatically changed our daily lives. We’re speaking to Canadian women about how coronavirus has affected how they work, parent, run their businesses and more. For information on where to find the latest updates on the evolving COVID-19 situation in Canada, go here. Below, Anna Chen – the chef and owner of Alma, an intimate restaurant in Toronto’s west end – opens up about her experience. 

Just a few weeks ago, business was still normal. We’re open from Wednesday to Sunday; generally, Wednesdays and Thursdays are busy enough, and then Fridays and Saturdays are very busy – it’s the weekend, and people like to go out on those days. So three weeks ago, we were still following this pattern.

And then last week [the week of March 9th] we took a very, very big hit.  We had a lot of cancellations and very few reservations to start with. I think we only had, like, eight to 10 people in on that Saturday. We were ready to do takeout. We already knew that we might have to close, but nothing was 100 percent. 

We only closed when Ontario declared that we were in a state of emergency. If we were not forced to close, we probably wouldn’t have. We would probably have had fewer tables and chairs in the dining room so there would be more distance between people and would have continued service. We didn’t want to do anything without thought, but we are also concerned about our employees.

At the moment, we have six staff members – three cooks and three people front of house. We have a really great team. They’re really sweet and understanding, and [the closure] wasn’t a surprise. I want to make sure that they are taken care of. A lot of our staff work on an hourly basis. Luckily, they all have some savings, and we’re also giving them their vacation pay, whatever they have accumulated. There was a lot of food in the restaurant that I had already prepared, and I will divvy it all up and distribute it among the staff. 

With a small business, there are many challenges. We have a lot of bills to pay. Our margins are pretty thin and the profits are very slim. This closure is not great because we still have to pay our bills. This is not a good thing for any small, independent restaurant. 

I’m just trying to stay as positive as possible. Nobody is prepared for this kind of situation, but we have to make the most of it. I truly believe that we will get through to the other side of this. It might be a little painful, but everyone’s experiencing it.  

It’s too early to tell how this will impact the industry. It depends on how long it goes on for. God forbid it’s more than a couple of months – that will hurt everyone, including us. Some people have reached out to me and asked if they can purchase gift cards, and I sincerely appreciate it. Of course, I will sell you a gift card if you want it, but I don’t want to obligate anybody. Hopefully, the government does give back in some way. We’re just hoping and praying for the best at this moment. 

– As told to Jessica Wei


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