Paramount Fine Foods CEO slams Ontario's last minute decision to ban indoor dining without measures to support the industry
Ontario's new rules aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant may lead to a "bloodbath" for small businesses already struggling to stay afloat, according to one restaurant owner.
Mohamad Fakih, founder and chief executive officer of Paramount Fine Foods, an Ontario-based chain of Middle Eastern restaurants, said in an interview Tuesday he wants the Ontario and federal governments to provide additional assistance to affected businesses, notably those in the restaurant sector, to avoid widespread closures.
"It's very, very difficult for people to continue getting these restrictions, one after the other; businesses can not stay open," Fakih said. "We saw a lot of restaurants that were lost in our community because they couldn't stay open during COVID."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the new restrictions Monday following what he described as a "tsunami" of new COVID-19 cases in the province over the past several weeks and as hospitals put off non-urgent surgeries as staff prioritize treating people suffering from the virus. Those new restrictions, which take effect Wednesday, include a ban on indoor dining as well as ordering gyms, theatres, concert venues, and many other indoor businesses to temporarily shut down. The measures will be in place until at least Jan. 26, the government said.
Fakih said that while he agrees with the latest restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the Omicron variant, those new rules are likely to throw a wrench in plans for many small business owners who have taken on significant debt to keep their doors open during the pandemic. A recent study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) found that small businesses have added an average of $190,000 in debt to stay in business despite various provincial lockdowns.
"By the time you create a repayment plan on your debts and the pattern of bringing some profit, they change the restrictions again and you start all over to replan your financial bottom line," Fakih said.
Ontario said it is providing some deferrals on property taxes and an energy rebate to small businesses during the current lockdown period, but the CFIB said in a release on Monday that those supports are not nearly enough to help organizations impacted by the newly-announced restrictions.
Paramount operates more than 70 locations around the world, the majority of which are located in Ontario. Fakih was named to the Order of Canada last month for his philanthropic work aiding new immigrants to Canada.
Over the years, Fakih expanded his business by employing many of those immigrants to work at Paramount, offering new Canadians a steady job and an opportunity to contribute to the country's economy. However, the latest lockdowns bring in labour uncertainty that could make it harder for restaurants to re-hire any lost staff, he added.
"We have lost a lot of employees who do not want to be in the restaurant business anymore," he said. "You hire them, then you let them go, then you hire them, then you let them go and that's not sustainable for anyone to do the career."