Despite being closed in effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus, many Tofino and Ucluelet restaurateurs are opening up their kitchens to cook for the community: front-line workers and ejected workers alike.
Zoë Jordan, owner of Ucluelet’s popular Zoë’s Bakery and Café, approached her local Chamber of Commerce soon after shutting down her shop and letting go 12 employees on March 16.
“My community was my main focus out of the gate. The first couple days we were closed, I drove around to construction sites and gave away free lunch,” said Jordan.
Soon after that, she contacted her nurse friend at Tofino General Hospital too see about feeding medical staff.
“It’s hard to sit back and not be able to help. It’s a very small drop in the bucket to be able to feed some people, but it’s what I can do,” said the baker who delighted the local health care workers with comforting chicken potpies and special ‘panokopitas’.
Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce executive director Lara Kemps said Jordan’s initial efforts have snowballed into a working document that matches essential workers on the coast with businesses willing to help.
“The helpers can access this live document and check off whom they have fed so we don’t double up,” notes Kemps, adding that her inbox has been flooded with messages from community members and restaurant owners wanting to help.
Jordan said everyone is really stepping up to the plate.
“Pretty much everyone I know is doing something to help, which is amazing considering we are all locked up,” she said.
On April 2, Restaurants Canada announced that more than about 121,000 food service jobs have been lost in B.C. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The national non-profit estimated that nearly one in 10 Canadian restaurants have already closed permanently, and another 18 per cent are predicted to close within a month under current conditions.
Jordan said she has enough in the bank to cover operations for at least two months. Her landlord is also offering her substantial relief. Some newer establishments, Jordan worries, might not be so fortunate.
“It’s like coming back from a Christmas or winter closure. We have been thrown back into that situation,” she said.
While cinnamon buns and cookies might not be classified as an essential, Zoë’s Bakery was a community hub, notes Jordan.
“I miss seeing everybody. I definitely took that for granted. I miss seeing all the kids that are hanging out at the park at the district. The thought of what will become of our kids zone. I miss my staff a lot,” she said.
Ucluelet Co-op front-line workers Yvonne and Chris relish a hot lunch made with love from Heartwood Kitchen. (Nora O’Malley photo)