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Pandemic Profiles #2: Silver Heights Restaurant & Lounge

Known for having the ‘best BBQ ribs in Winnipeg’, Silver Heights Restaurants & Lounge was established in 1956 by Tony Siwicki Sr. with a few of his friends in the Nash Veterans Taxi drivers. Since then, Silver Heights Restaurant & Lounge has become a local institution, often referred to as the ‘Cheers of Winnipeg’, the Siwicki family has owned and operated the family business and the fourth generation is now in the works. In fact, the Heights is Winnipeg’s longest-running family restaurant and reportedly Winnipeg’s first sports bar!

The impact on such an established community watering hole has been devastating. “When the pandemic began we had no idea what was in store for our industry, never mind our family business,” says Tony Siwicki, owner of Silver Heights Restaurant & Lounge. “We shut the doors, canceled most of the subscriptions, filled all our staff’s fridges and freezers with our produce and meat and condiments – not knowing what the future would be for them, nor if we would be able to offer takeout.”  

As the world settled into the new reality of COVID-19, so did the Silver Heights team. “We needed a long-term solution, we couldn’t survive with no customers,” explains Siwicki. “To pivot, we cut the menus down, shortened our hours, upgraded our takeout containers, and drastically altered our way of doing business as we knew it.” 

Silver Heights’ indoor dining was closed for 234 days, though thankfully they were able to depend on outdoor dining for 230 days, and of course, delivery. “We slowly hired some of the kitchen staff back to prep, clean and cook, etc,” says Siwicki. “We were able to give our front staff each a couple of days a week as hosts, bag packers, order takers, and drivers for our newly adapted delivery system.” 

Image via cbc.ca

Still, as it stands, Silver Heights has only been able to hire back 18 out of the previous 41 staff they once employed. “We cannot hire all of our staff due to limited capacity,” clarifies Siwicki. Nevertheless, even if Siwicki was able to bring back all his employees, he’s doubtful he would even be able to – citing several labour shortage challenges he’s seen and experienced. “With the continuous opening and closing, some staff cannot rely on restaurants for stable employment and have moved industries altogether. Plus, with those collecting CERB as income and with the stipulation that you cannot earn while collecting- no one is applying.” 

Fortunately, the Silver Heights team was able to take advantage of a few government programs that helped to keep the operation afloat. “We were able to leverage CEBA, Bridge Grants, Delivery Recovery from MRFA, and the CEWS provided the most benefit for us,” says Siwicki. “We were not able to take advantage of CECRA as we are related to the company that we pay rent to.” 

The scaling back of these programs that have been so imperative to the business is worrying to Siwicki and the Silver Heights team. Siwicki says: “They need to continue this support into 2022. We’re one of the only industries that have worked so tirelessly to ensure that our staff, family, and customers are protected and safe from contracting the virus – at our own expense, out of our own pocket.”

Siwicki would appreciate seeing PPE subsidies for the foodservice industry, “we need funding to all who have invested in PPE including dividers, air purifiers, and moving of furniture and fixtures, etc.” Additionally, he believes that the government needs to do all that it can to get the public back in restaurant seats. He says he would like to see “marketing from the province to encourage a return to dine-in and help for restaurants with marketing subsidies.”

Siwicki ends by highlighting how supporting restaurants means supporting the community as a whole. “We are a local restaurant and we support local businesses. The protein, produce, dry goods, takeout containers, our mechanics, plumbers, electricians, cleaners, and even our linens, are all sourced locally. Our touch expands beyond the confines of our wall. If we are affected, the neighbourhood is affected.”

If you want to show support for a local neighbourhood establishment that you wouldn’t be able to picture life without, join our Restaurant Survival Coalition! Get started by heading over to SupportRestaurants.ca and sending a postcard to your Member of Parliament and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to let them know that restaurants need sector-specific support and an extension of programs.

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