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Pandemic Profiles #6: Black Sheep Restaurant Group, British Columbia

Concentrated in Nelson and Kelowna, British Columbia, the Black Sheep Restaurant Group was founded by owner Brad Fileul in 2013. The group includes three concepts: Cantina Del Centro (which has two locations), Yum Son, and Broken Hill.

Cantina Del Centro opened its first location in Nelson and it’s second later in August 2020 in Kelowna. They offer authentic and unique Mexican street food and hosts the largest selection of Tequila and Mezcal in The Kootenays and one of the largest in all of BC.

Yum Son launched in October 2016, and is Nelson’s very first Viet-Modern restaurant Bringing the flavours of Southeast Asia into each of their cocktails and culinary dishes, the operation strives to find balance in each of their creations.

Broken Hill began in December 2019 with a focus on three things: beer, whiskey, and smokey BBQ. The name Broken Hill calls back to the mining history of Nelson and the Broken Hill mining company that owned the block that the present-day restaurant sits on. In fact, Broken Hill was built on the land of the previous Red Fish Grill; an institution in Nelson, the restaurant sadly burned down in 2010. The heritage building was renovated and now offers residents an array of whiskey, craft beer options, and tasty smokehouse platters.

Fast forward to March 2020, as the world changed, Black Sheep made the difficult decision to shut down all operations for two months.They gradually re-opened things in May and June 2020 with a roll out of takeout options, family style menus and delivery options. “We also re-engineered and streamlined menus to minimize costs and streamline operations,” explains Executive Chef for Cantina Del Centro, Yum Son, Broken Hill, Simon Vine.

Chef Simon estimates that indoor dining was shut down for the restaurant group for over 100 days and during this time, they were only able to offer outdoor dining for roughly 50 days. Chef Simon indicates that the restaurant group was able to survive in part due to government programs like the rent and wage subsidies, BC Recovery Grant, and the Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant.

In response to the ongoing advocacy efforts of Restaurants Canada, the federal government recently announced the extension of the eligibility period for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support until Oct. 23, 2021, and they are increasing the rate of support that businesses can receive during the period between Aug. 29 and Sept. 25, 2021. Chef Simon points out the importance of this announcement saying that, “I have spoken with other colleagues and friends in the industry whose businesses will not survive without the continued support from the federal and provincial governments.”

Going forward, Chef Simon highlights how challenges with the labour shortage will need to be addressed by the government. “I would like to see more programs and initiatives to address the labour shortages in our industry,” states Chef Simon.

Luckily, the Black Sheep group was able to bring back the majority of their staff. They’re currently employing roughly 120 staff across all concepts. Although Chef Simon says that, “some didn’t return if they had already found other employment opportunities and some employees left the industry altogether.” He wants to emphasize the difficulty of finding new staff due to the labour shortage, and the fact that many people are unwilling to return, too nervous to return, or generally apprehensive due to the uncertainty caused by COVID.

Things seemed to have evened out for the time being in British Columbia, and Black Sheep is taking full advantage of this. “We are mostly back to business as usual, although we continually have to adapt to rapidly changing conditions regarding COVID. We continue to inform our customers through marketing and social media channels of any changes in policies or practices as related to COVID-19″” says Chef Simon.

Many of the changes made during the height of the pandemic still remain. The team continues to leverage QR codes in place of paper or plastic menus, they are continuing to offer delivery, and still ensure that both employees and guests are aware of and practicing proper health and sanitation policies.

With (hopefully) brighter days on the horizon, for Chef Simon the pandemic only reinforces how important restaurants are to our communities. “Restaurants are one of the foundational elements of culture in the places we live,” he points out. “They provide employment and business opportunities for local residents and small businesses, gathering places for the public, community events, charity sponsorships, and memorable experiences for our patrons and staff.”

To ensure the survival of restaurants across Canada, join the Restaurant Survival Coalition by heading to SupportRestaurants.ca. Read more Pandemic Profiles here.

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