2023 has been a tough year for restaurants in B.C., especially those in the Central Okanagan and other communities impacted by wildfires this summer.
Despite tourism virtually drying up in the Kelowna area in August, the federal government has so far refused to further extend the interest-free repayment period for Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans many restaurants took out during the pandemic.
“We’re in trouble a little bit in the Okanagan because of the fires and lack of cash in August, which is a big month for us, particularly around tourism,” says Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
“We have CEBA loans which are coming due about the beginning of January, which we’ve been pleading with and trying to draw attention to the government. We’re not asking for free money. We want the gift of time to help these small businesses.” Unfortunately, Tostenson says no one is getting anywhere with the federal government and he fears business closures will mount.
In Kelowna Unconventional Hospitality Group recently announced the pending closure of Jack’s on Bernard Avenue, after five years in business. While an extension on the CEBA loan might have helped, it probably wouldn’t have saved the business.
“I think, ultimately, the economic factors more so. Definitely, that closure (in August). It was two weeks, basically, where Jack’s went from projecting their best sales of the year to zero sales. Then followed by two weeks where we were losing every day we opened because we had more staff costs. Staff costs alone were more than our sales,” UHG president Casey Greabieil explained.
He says even when the fires died down and things started to pick up again in mid-September, Jack’s wasn’t seeing the kind of bounce back it had in previous years. Unconventional also owns Salt & Brick, Pretty Not Bad and Diner Deluxe in Kelowna.
Another dark cloud hanging over the local dining industry has been the unseasonably warm weather. It has repeatedly delayed the opening of Big White.
“All those incremental food sales and people staying up for the weekend versus, no, we’re not going to go up to Big White this weekend because there’s no snow. I hope that turns around pretty quickly,” says Tostenson.
He suggests that even if Ottawa comes through with an 11th hour extension on CEBA it will likely be too little, too late for restaurants teetering on the edge as 2023 comes to a close.
**a previous version of this story noted the closure of Raudz Regional Table at the end of the year. While the restaurant is closing, its closure has nothing to do with financial challenges and was instead the personal choice of the owners, who will continue to operate Sunny’s Modern Diner and the Okanagan Table downtown.