It's time for the true leaders to step up: Arron Barberian on support for restaurants
Another wave of restrictions is set to add new pressures to the ailing restaurant industry, leaving many business owners who managed through the first wave wondering if they can survive a second.
The federal government plans to roll out measures such as extending the wage subsidy until next summer and reformatting a commercial rent assistance program through Bill C-9. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was in the hot seat on Thursday’s Senate Finance Committee to answer questions from senators on the new relief measures for small business owners who have been demanding answers.
But for restaurateurs like Arron Barberian, relief can’t come quickly enough for Barberian’s Steak House, which has been a fixture of Toronto's dining scene since his father opened the venue in 1959.
Contrary to many voices in the industry, Barberian said the lockdowns should have been more strict to tackle the problem. “The first wave of this was, call it an act of God or something, beyond human control,” Barberian told BNN Bloomberg. “But the second wave that we’re in is a man-made disaster.”
Barberian added that the government needs to do more to take care of the hospitality space now that they’ve mandated extended restrictions, including tax breaks and forgiving operational costs. “They basically confiscated our industry.”
During the pandemic, Barberian’s Steak House pivoted to a take-out meat business, only to be hit with an HST audit from the Canada Revenue Agency. This adds to the list of problems faced by restauranteurs. “The bills keep on coming in, the landlords, they deserve their money… all the suppliers deserve their money, my employees deserve to be paid.”
The costs weighed heavily on the King Street Company Inc., the owner of restaurants like Buca and Jacob’s & Co. Steakhouse, which sought creditor protection earlier this week amid steep financial damages stemming from pandemic restrictions. The announcement came as a sudden shock to a company that was planning expansions in its restaurant portfolio before the pandemic struck.
“The failures are happening rapidly now,” Barberian explained, adding that these closures come with a tragic toll taken on the owners running them, causing the end of many family businesses.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) told BNN Bloomberg on Wednesday that as many as 225,000 small businesses, roughly one in seven, could close forever.
“Businesses are just not prepared for this because the supports aren’t in place from the government still,” Kelly said. “We’re about eight months into the pandemic and most of the government support programs are working imperfectly or are just not there at all.”
Royce Mendes, senior economist at CIBC World Markets, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview that for every consumer dollar spent in restaurants and other service sectors, there is less money leaking out of the Canadian economy, compared to dollars spent on imported goods.
“The longer you can keep those dollars within the economy, the more [gross domestic product] you’re going to get,” Mendes said. “Having [government support] targeted so that more of those dollars stay within Canada would increase the multiplier effect of those dollars.”
Erik Joyal, the president of Ascari Hospitality Group which has four restaurants in Toronto, said targeted support for the hospitality industry is needed immediately. Despite the government making aid for small businesses and restaurants a priority in October’s Throne Speech, many owners have yet to see any relief. Joyal says these measures need to be expedited quickly.
“Time is running out on a lot of businesses,” he said.