‘We Can’t Blame No One But Coronavirus’: Popular British Columbia Restaurants and Pubs Forced to Close Permanently

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After a race of almost 10 years, Emik Malak completed his last shift at his Bellaggio Café at the Vancouver Convention Center in mid-September.

“Sometimes it has to be said that I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the owner of Bellaggio told Global News.

Dependent on subsidies since the COVID-19 hit, the tables were empty and Malak knew the location which depended heavily on tourism – was on borrowed time.

“The [are] no cruise ships, no tourists and no conventions, ”he said.

At the height of the summer pre-pandemic, Malak employed up to 35 people. Since September 2020, it has laid off 25 of them amid declining sales.

“It’s sad you go from $ 22,000 a day to $ 200, $ 500, how can you make money? Malak said.

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In May of last year, The Holy Crab was also forced to close.

The owner of the Louisiana-inspired seafood restaurant, who has built up a loyal following during his three years on Robson Street, told Global News he didn’t want to shirk his obligations – but was the victim of a landlord who refused to participate in the government’s rent relief program.

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“I feel like what small businesses like mine really need at this time is some sort of break,” said Henri William, a few days before closing his restaurant for good.

Seventeen months later, William, who has since pivoted to a new career in the tech industry, said there was a loophole in the CECRA program that required the owner to be the proactive player and ask subsidy, but some were reluctant to pay 25 per cent of the rent so that their commercial tenants could get the subsidy.


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Jeff Donnelly is slowly reopening his 17 neighborhood cocktail pubs and clubs in Vancouver and Toronto.

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“Personally, I’ve got millions of dollars in debt this year,” said Donnelly, who started his business in 1999.

In mid-March 2020, the Donnelly Group closed all of its establishments – without knowing when or if they would reopen.

At the time, the independent advertising group had over 1,000 employees. Donnelly said more than 900 have been made redundant.

“When we were locked in the heat of the pandemic, the government just said every dollar you get goes straight to your owners.”

“You’re going to see a lot of victims, a lot of victims,” ​​Group CEO Donnelly told Global News.

The Donnelly group was forced to shut down its popular Blackbird Public House in Vancouver’s financial district.


Donnelly Group


The popular Blackbird Public House in Vancouver’s financial district was one of them.

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“It’s a year and a half later, so it’s a lot easier to talk about it,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly was about to renew the lease for what he considered a “cultural center” for his staff when he also said the landlord decided not to apply for the rent subsidy.

“They asked us to pay the rent that we just thought was unfair, you know, that didn’t make sense,” Donnelly said.

“It was really tough, it was one of my favorite places.”

With 60 percent of his roster returning, Donnelly feels lucky to be able to continue.

“We had to invest in our savings, other people might have lost their savings,” he said.

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The Metropole Pub blamed its September 2020 closure on COVID-19 liquor rules.

Stopping alcohol sales at 10 p.m. was unsustainable as 60% of the pub’s activity occurred between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“If you cut our sales in half with these original restrictions and then cut them by more than half, we just bleed,” managing director Matt Thompson told Global News at the time.

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In a November 3 social media post, Taylight Brewing in Port Coquitlam announced it would close on November 5 after twenty difficult months.

The craft brewery opened in August 2018 and was on the list of stops on the North Fraser Route of the BC Ale Trail.

In his Facebook post, Taylight said the effects of COVID-19 had unfortunately caught up with them – adding that they were saddened to know that they “aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last small business to shut down. doors due to the lingering effects of this unprecedented pandemic. ”

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The BC Hotel Association said its members have also been hit hard by the loss of international travel, conferences and tours.

President and CEO Ingrid Jarrett told Global News several thousand rooms in the province have been closed since the start of the pandemic.

Sixteen British Columbia hotels have been pivoted to quarantine returning Canadian travelers, while 1,542 rooms have been purchased by the province to house the homeless.

BC Housing has purchased 21 hotels and motels and three SROs since March 2020 – at a total cost of $ 380.7 million.

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Other properties, like the Trump International Hotel in Vancouver, have closed their doors for good.

“Several hotels and several as description underestimate this number, either changed hands for reuse or closed due to financial constraints and bankruptcies such as the Trump Tower,” Jarrett said.

After relinquishing his lease at Canada Place, Malak said he would focus on his other Bellagio Café on Hornby Street.

“If the subsidies stop, you’ll see 50 percent of the restaurant industry in BC go bankrupt,” said Malak, who leaves with little debt.

“We can’t blame anyone other than the coronavirus, and you know the coronavirus is not going to go away.”

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