Mom and pop restaurants in Ottawa struggle to keep up with another lockdown

The past two years have been some of the toughest for small businesses, and as they face yet another lockdown, mom and pop stores are once again struggling to find ways to survive.

Nada Salame bought her restaurant, Miss Molly’s, in early December in hopes that the pandemic would ease. Then the Omicron wave took over.

“They raided us last week without eating,” Salame said. “So just takeout, delivery and pick up, so it’s a bit difficult.”

Miss Molly’s dining room is normally full for lunch every Friday, now it is empty. Salame is now scrambling to turn to full takeaway.

“Just finished building our website a week ago,” Salame says. “So now we offer delivery and collection. So you can place the order online.”

Mike Williams works across the street from Miss Molly’s. He’s been coming here for three years now.

“We come here a few times a week,” Williams says. “We’re across the road. They’re definitely the best food around. It’s all homemade.”

Salame says she has had to fire all but one of the employees, a cook. With no dining options for the next few weeks, Salame says it was prohibitively expensive to keep them on the payroll.

“We had two waitresses and two kitchen assistants. So we’re sorry to have to fire them right now, but we can’t afford to pay them when we don’t have any money either,” Salame says.

James Rilett of Restaurants Canada says in the pandemic: the smaller a restaurant, the harder and faster it falls.

“They’re the ones. They don’t have a lot of capital they can lean on to keep going through the lean times,” Rilett says. “They’re the ones you depend on in the community. They’re very much a part of the community. It’s not just bulk companies, so they’re the ones that hurt the most.”

In Bells Corners at Mort’s Pub and Pizza, Martin Hughes and his wife also rely on customer loyalty and takeaways to keep their sales up.

“We really miss the crowds coming in,” Hughes says. “Most of our customers at lunchtime are from big places like the government and GDC and National Defense, and of course they all work from home.”

Mort's Pub and Pizza

He says these are some of the darkest times he’s seen.

“I think that was probably the hardest part. The constant switching from opening and closing, and opening and closing,” says Hughes. “And trying to settle in or trying to make a plan. Well, you really can’t.’

Back at Miss Molly’s, Salame says this closing couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“Complete shutdown, it hurts,” Salame says. “At this time of year, January is already slow.”

“To our loyal customers that we’ve built over the past 24 years, they’ve supported us through it all and want to say a big thank you,” says Hughes. “And also urge everyone to support your local restaurants.”

Just two of the many mom and pop restaurants doing everything they can to survive yet another wave in the pandemic.

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