The pandemic has permanently ended the dream of two Sarnians to run their own restaurant.
Less than three years after Laurie and Dean Frayne opened Lake Point Grillhouse & Lounge a lack of staff, a delay in government assistance, and a third wave of COVID-19 has made staying in business impossible, Laurie Frayne says.
“I can’t do this anymore. Maybe if we had a small restaurant we could keep going. But 10 people allowed in a restaurant that seats 160 just isn’t doable.”
The pandemic was the biggest factor.
The Fraynes entered it in a relatively strong position. Their family-style restaurant on Christina Street North had a growing clientele. Live music on the weekends packed the place. Dean ran the kitchen while Laurie took care of the front of the house.
At its peak, the restaurant employed 23 staff and customers appreciated how the Fraynes renovated a landmark and breathed new life into the former Chipican Steak House.
The couple survived the first lockdown by focusing on takeout specials. Last summer they opened a patio and received a $40,000 federal loan that saw them through.
The summer patio proved very successful and partially compensated for closing last spring, Laurie Frayne said.
“We were looking forward to having it again (this summer) as well as the takeout window.”
But retaining staff became increasingly difficult, she said.
“People would rather sit at home and collect CERB.”
By November she and Dean were running the restaurant on their own.
“I was having to do it all – greet people at the door, make sure all the protocols were met, screen the customers, take the orders, do the cleaning, serve the food,” said Laurie.
“I was exhausted so we switched to just takeout.”
The community supported Lake Point’s takeout but the rollercoaster of shutdowns and restrictions made it hard to pay the bills.
“The overhead is the same whether you can seat 10 or 100 people,” she said.
The couple realized they could generate business by selling packaged meals to local retirement homes, so they began delivering fresh and frozen dinners with homemade pies to senior complexes.
“We were hoping we could keep it going that way,” said Laurie, adding she is grateful for the good friends who volunteered to help.
The Fraynes applied for a provincial small business grant of up to $20,000. There was an error in the application and it needed to be resubmitted.
“We waited weeks and weeks for an answer and when I called to find out about it, I was on hold for three hours,” Frayne said. “I was told we’d get a call later and that there is a big backlog in applications.”
Then her husband slipped in the parking lot and injured his back. Hard decisions had to be made.
“This is about a lot more than one restaurant,” she said. “We’re all struggling. We didn’t want to give up. There’s a lot of sadness but we have to move ahead.”
More than 200,000 Canadian businesses could close permanently during the COVID-19 crisis, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates.
Its latest data shows that only 62% of businesses are fully open, 44% are fully staffed, and 31% are making normal sales.
When the Fraynes posted on Facebook that Lake Point was permanently closed, they received hundreds of comments from disappointed customers.
“Many of our staff and customers became friends and we are really going to miss them,” she said.
“We so much appreciate the community’s support. We know we did well and provided a good product.
“We don’t want to go.”