Edmonton restaurant owner encourages people to think beyond delivery apps during COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 crisis is a critical time to support local businesses — including restaurants — in Edmonton who are adapting to just take-out and delivery.

One independent restaurant owner is encouraging people to think beyond using third-party apps.

Paul Shufelt owns Workshop Eatery on the south side near Summerside and Woodshed Burgers on 124 Street in central Edmonton. Like many others right now, he has pivoted his business model.

“We’ve been open here just shy of five years and I’ve never laid anybody off — between our two restaurants, I’ve had to lay off 40 people shortly after this started,” he said on Thursday from Workshop.

Shufelt said he has been able to bring some employees back, to take phone orders and make deliveries.

He said he wants to keep everything internal rather than going with a third-party app like Uber Eats or Skip the Dishes.

“The big players are playing in that 25 to 30 per cent range,” Shufelt explained.

He said a restaurant typically operates with about 30 per cent labour costs.

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“You’re now giving that entire dollar value to a third-party delivery driver,” he said.

“Yes that driver needs a job as well, but you are taking that right out of people in the restaurant.”

Shufelt said it’s one thing when it’s a side part of the business, but another when take-out and delivery is all that’s left.

In Alberta, the industry as a whole is taking a big hit.

Mark Von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada vice president for Western Canada, said worries his members is that once social distancing becomes a thing of the past and dine-in service can resume, is the amount of debt they’ll have to take on to restore cash flow.

“Given the thin margins in the industry, that would take a long time to pay that money back. So some of our members are just saying, ‘I can’t afford to do that.’ Either close or close later because of the huge amount of additional debt that will just never be able to be paid back,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of members now scrambling to figure out how they’re going to pay their lease, never mind all of the other utilities and other bills that they have to pay as well with no income.”

At Workshop, employees just want to help wherever they can.

“Who’s left employed is happy and grateful, so there’s been no complaining that’s for sure,” said managing partner Kristina Shufelt.

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