Without community, ‘I would not have weathered this storm
This pandemic has caused so much uncertainty. Having a restaurant means socializing and meeting people. Everything that represents a restaurant is the opposite of what a pandemic represents.
In my case, the shutdown meant I lost everything overnight. I was then told I could re-open for take-out, which meant coming up with a whole new business. I had to manage with just a couple of people. There was a challenge in getting ingredients — I was competing with regular customers at the stores and I'm not a frontline worker, so I had to wait in line with everyone else. My suppliers had their own problems and wholesale prices doubled. I wanted to keep serving the kind of food Nikosi is known for and that represents who I am without sacrificing quality.
The restaurant business is difficult enough without a pandemic. Finding and keeping staff is always hard, especially for a small business with irregular hours that's in a small town. There's regular bus service for people who commute to office jobs, but not for people who work odd hours. We don't have a taxi service or Uber, so my staff pretty much have to have a car to get to work. Adding COVID on top of it has been a huge challenge. I've had to change the way I do things: making sure staff adhere to new regulations and making sure customers understand why I have to be so careful. I'm so proud of every staff member at Nikosi. They have adapted to a lot of change.
You sometimes think you're going to give up hope — everything has been in stages. It's scary, but I've gone through a lot of challenges with this business. You either learn from your experience or take a different path. And everyone's in the same boat.
All levels of society have been affected, but people may not understand the degree to which different businesses have had to adapt. If I hadn't done take-out, I would have had no other source of income. I went into survival mode.
I was allowed to open my business, which was a blessing, and I saw how much people have struggled, having been cooped up for so long. Without the support of my community – Wakefield Radio and people buying gift certificates even when I didn't know when I was going to reopen, our municipality, the loyalty of my clientele, and the government's support – I would not have weathered this storm.
The future will be one day at a time, as it should be. We need to realize how lucky we are to be in this country and encourage each other as a community, acknowledging what we have and how we can make ourselves better. It's about staying positive and realizing what our priorities are and what really matters.
Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle is the owner of Nikosi Bistro Pub in Wakefield and a resident of La Pêche.