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  • Writer's pictureStuart Benson

Rare steaks don’t travel, Nikosi temporarily closes

Take-out model works for some, not all

While some restaurants in the Hills have been able to adapt to take-out dining due to COVID-19 restrictions easier, other restaurants are struggling to make the change, in part because what they serve just doesn’t travel well.

Nikosi Bistro Pub in Wakefield will remain closed and won’t be serving take-out while owner Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle takes time to recharge, as she waits for current red zone restrictions to lift. Stuart Benson photo
Nikosi Bistro Pub in Wakefield will remain closed and won’t be serving take-out while owner Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle takes time to recharge, as she waits for current red zone restrictions to lift. Stuart Benson photo

Owner of Nikosi Bistro Pub in Wakefield, Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle, said she can’t stand the thought of her customers getting home and being unhappy with the quality of the food, and, since there’s nothing she can do about it, she’s decided to temporarily close. She announced her decision on Facebook on Nov. 12.

As she explained, her bistro serves dishes like smoked salmon, steak and seared duck breast, which are meant to be served hot, directly from the kitchen — not sitting in take-out containers for 15 minutes.

She explained that she has had to tell her customers that if they want their steaks ‘rare’ to maybe order it ‘blue’ because it's “going to continue to cook in the takeout box. She has also had to warn customers that the fries are not going to be as crispy.

“You can only do so much on take-out,” Riel-Lachapelle said, explaining that, even with all of the wonderful support she has received from the community, take-out can never replace the revenue from sit-down dining and the accompanying alcohol sales. “With my [overhead], I can't just sell coffee and a muffin and the occasional poutine,” she added.

Riel-Lachapelle said the ‘yo-yo-ing’ of shutting down, re-opening and then shutting down again has been incredibly taxing, from the “10 pages of government regulations” she’s had to abide by to reopen, to seeing other businesses outside of the restaurant industry thriving with far less restrictions.

“I one hundred per cent agree that we should be following these safety measures, I just don’t think it’s fair that we were given so many restrictions, but it's a restaurant; our sanitization procedures and habits were already above and beyond most businesses,” Riel-Lachapelle explained.

Riel-Lachapelle said that, prior to the most recent shutdown order on Oct. 10 when the region became a COVID-19 red zone, she had just purchased heat lamps for her patio in order to keep seating people outdoors for as long as possible. Then, when they extended the restrictions for another 28 days and then another 28 days – until, at least, Jan. 11 – she decided she was finished wasting her energy and resources, and especially wasting the time and loyalty of her customers and staff until she felt there was a more stable framework for her to operate within.

“I'm not saying the community hasn't done enough – they've been wonderful – but for my business, I need alcohol sales, and who wants to order a steak and go eat it in the park?” Riel-Lachapelle said.

“At this point, I just feel like I know I want to reopen, but how am I supposed to plan without any stability,” Lachapelle-Riel asked rhetorically. “I need a strategy and strength when we do reopen, so I'm just going to ride this one out [the current red zone restrictions] and regain some energy and reboot my batteries.”

Le Resto Chelsea

There are some restaurants, however, that have had an easier time “bending with the times,” as Le Resto Chelsea co-owner James Hargreaves described it.

“We decided to be gymnastic and agile at the very beginning of the pandemic in March,” he explained, who co-owns the restaurant along with his wife Line Boyer. “We stopped [having] sit-down customers from the very beginning and reinvented ourselves as a take-away restaurant.”

Like Nikosi, Hargreaves said Le Resto has seen a 45 to 50 per cent reduction in sales, but thanks to the early remodelling and redesign, combined with reduced staff from 14 last year to the current four, their payroll and overhead has also gone down.

“I wouldn't say we're delighted with the situation, but we're … optimistic that our business model is the right way to go,” Hargreaves explained. “It's much more convenient for my wife and me as the business owners, that we'll probably stay this way,” he added about Le Resto’s post-pandemic future.

Rutherfords Burgers and BBQ

Rutherfords Burger and BBQ in Wakefield also changed their business model to take-out only in March and “haven’t looked back,” according to co-owner Katie Dodds.

“We were fortunate in doing so because we did not have to adapt again when the second shutdown took hold of the industry right before Thanksgiving,” Dodds explained. “Our community has been over-the-top supportive of us, and we have tried to give back to them by keeping our prices very affordable for families.”

To “bring a little light into the darkness this time of year,” Rutherfords is offering $5 off on all of their family meals for the entire month of December. They will also be running a ‘pay-it-forward’ campaign, where customers can buy a Christmas meal for a family in need. Rutherfords will match your donation, so that every meal will provide a meal to two different families.

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