Cathy Dobson & Troy Shantz
Many Sarnia restaurants and eateries are dark and empty places this week.
The social distancing imposed by the Covid-19 outbreak has slashed revenue and meant layoffs for hundreds of wait staff, dishwashers and cooks.
Ups N’ Downs pub on Front Street and Paddy Flaherty’s on Seaway Road both shut down on March 16, one day before Ontario declared a state of emergency.
Their decision to close scrubbed the biggest and busiest day on the pub calendar, St. Patrick’s Day.
“For me, it was like missing Christmas,” said Ups N’ Downs owner John Mallon, who is of Irish descent.
Customers showed up anyway looking for green suds.
“They seemed to have no idea we were closed,” said Mallon. “The phone rang off the hook. I guess a lot of people aren’t news junkies like I am.”
Paddy’s co-owner Angelyn Smolders sat stunned inside her empty Irish pub on March 17. It should have been filled with merrymakers and a lineup out the door.
The scene was alien, she said. “Like an apocalypse.”
Smolders and co-owner Scott Dargie saw the writing on the wall and closed their 25-year-old business the day before.
They laid off 45 staff, are prioritizing which bills to pay, and wondering what to do with an inventory of beer and spirits stockpiled for the big day.
Paddy’s, also a renowned venue for live music, has cancelled its entertainment lineup until May.
“It’s tough, because you know bands are struggling too,” said Smolders.
The stress that restaurant owner and staff are under is immense, but local patrons are helping through takeout and delivery orders, which health officials say is safe.
Mallon laid off 10 part-time staff and 20 full-timers are on reduced hours.
“I’m trying to keep the full-time ones busy with the takeout business,” he said. St. Patrick’s Day revenue wasn’t close to normal, though he was “pleasantly surprised with how much Irish stew” went out the door, he said.
A contract to provide Imperial Oil overtime workers with takeout meals also helps.
“And I got a break from the beer delivery guys on Tuesday who asked if I still wanted that morning’s order,” Mallon said.
“I told them I didn’t need another $5,000 in beer sitting on my floor. They said I didn’t have to take it and were really good about it.”
Sarnia’s downtown has been eerily quiet since the state of emergency was declared, he added.
“So I think everyone is accepting the situation.”
He’s also glad he closed before being force to.
“We either stand together or we fall together,” Mallon said. “In times like these, sacrifices have to be made by all.”
At Paddy’s, takeout orders are continuing to come in, and the remaining staff jump when the phone rings.
The food delivery app Skip the Dishes helps, Smolders said. The restaurant signed up for it a week before things began shutting down and processed $5,000 in orders the first five days.
“We’re going day by day,” Smolders said.