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C M Y K S M A L L B U S I N E S S M O N T H - S U P P L E M E N T T O T H E F R E E P R E S S - S A T U R D A Y , O C T O B E R 1 , 2 0 2 2 2 Pandemic prompted many local restaurants to rethink how they do business Still, no one was overly concerned at the time. The assumption was that the coronavirus would wreak havoc for a month or two, and then gradually fade away. Business and life would eventually resume, and the pesky virus would become a distant memory. How wrong we were. As it turned out, the virus hung around much longer than expected and proved to be much more infectious and deadly than first anticipated. Public health orders were imposed by the province to limit the spread of the virus, forcing people to stay home and businesses to close. Among the businesses hit hardest by the closures were local restaurants, who depend on a steady stream of loyal customers to support their business. "In all, there were four rounds of closures during the pandemic," says Shaun Jeffrey, executive director and CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association. "With all the closing and re-opening, restaurants had to change their business model to try and survive." Suddenly, smaller, local restaurants were forced to rely on pick-up and delivery to make ends meet while closed to the public. Jeffrey says many restaurants struggled to make the sudden transition. "A lot of restaurants simply didn't have pick-up and delivery services in place. Many also weren't on a delivery platform where they could be found," he says. "As a result, people didn't think about them. The result is that local restaurants had only some or no success at all." At the same time, other challenges came up to further complicate matters. "With everything in turmoil, restaurant owners didn't really know what they were going to do on a daily basis," Jeffrey says. "In the past, they could plan. Now, everything was uncertain. It's hard to run a business around that." However, there were some restaurants that managed to survive – and even thrive – as the pandemic persisted. "The successful businesses were the ones who thought outside the box and used all business models," he says. "They provided restaurant quality food, found creative ways to get their name out, used social media and instituted limited menus." One of those restaurants was Pasquale's on Marion Street. Longtime owner Joe Loshavio says he used the first closure to take stock of the rather dire situation. "I looked at it as a chance to absorb what was going on, and to come up with some tactics to deal with the challenge we were faced with," he recalls. Once he had his head wrapped around the new COVID reality, he instituted several strategies. "First, I downsized the operation and downsized the days we were open," he recalls. "We were open four days a week on different days with take-out and delivery available to our customers. Second, I still had staff come into work on a limited basis." The limited work hours served a distinct purpose, he adds. "Our employees were able to work 20 hours and still get government benefits. Doing that also helped us control costs and didn't burn out staff. We typically stayed open from 4:00 to 8:30. That way, our staff didn't get take-out fatigue." Recognizing times were tough, Loshavio also took a personal interest in the welfare of his staff, many of whom had been with the restaurant for many years. "We gave them money when they needed it, got them support when we could, and even gave them food out of our freezer," he says. "No one knew how long the pandemic would last." While enduring the challenge- fraught pandemic was tough, Loshavio adds it ultimately made his business stronger and more efficient. "Even with business back to normal, we still close the restaurant on Sundays and Mondays, though that's partly due to staffing issues," he says. "Now, we work hard for five days, then take two days off to rest and be with our families." It's a strategy that's paying off, he adds. "As it turned out, less is more. We work with what we've got and realize we don't have to fill all the seats to do well. Stress levels are down. That's what happens when you stop to smell the roses." With a more efficient business with limited days and hours, take and bake home meal replacements and a strong pick-up and delivery client base, Pasquale's is thriving in the post-pandemic world. "I would like to thank Winnipeggers for their amazing support," Loshavio says. "People were so generous during the pandemic and really picked us up. Everyone has been phenomenal, and we're going to continue to be here for our customers, because people are counting on us." BY TODD LEWYS When COVID-19 hit Winnipeg in March 2020, nearly everyone was taken by surprise. Food for Thought Photo by Darcy Finley Pasquale's owner Joe Loshavio says the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to change the way his business operates including offering customers an opportunity to take and bake meals at home. Supporting Manitoba's small business community.

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