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As business problems go, this wasn’t a bad one to have.
Restaurateur Martin Ruiz Salvador had to drive from Lunenburg to Kentville on Tuesday to replenish his supply of takeout containers because the holiday weekend had been so busy.
Salvador and his wife, Sylvie, own the Salt Shaker Deli, the Beach Pea, the South Shore Fish Shack and Half Shell Oysters and Seafood, all in Lunenburg.
Two are open and two others that would normally be open by now remain closed.
Salvador says what he shares with other business owners trying to figure out how to make it work these days is that what he needs most is patience from his customers.
“Which we have, a hundred per cent,” he said.
“Everybody has been completely understanding about everything, our customers have been fantastic. The number one thing is your staff. We wouldn’t be able to do any of this unless we had the great staff that we have.”
The Salt Shaker Deli is a year-round restaurant that the pandemic closed for almost two months, so getting that open first, which happened May 5, was the priority.
“Also, it lends itself very well to takeout,” said Salvador.
“Probably not as well as the Fish Shack but we do have pizzas on the menu, sandwiches, pastas, pad Thais. So, it’s great eating-in food, but also it works very well for takeout. We knew we wanted to open the Salt Shaker first, then proceed to the Fish Shack for takeout.”
The South Shore Fish Shack opened Friday, sat through a wet, cool and quiet Saturday and then was full out Sunday and Monday.
The way Salvador is running his business now has changed completely.
“It’s a hundred per cent takeout,” he said.
“There’s no front of the house staff, maybe one or two at each place so unfortunately most of our waiters and waitresses are still laid off. It’s more kitchen heavy, there’s more people working in the kitchen than working in the front of the house at the Deli.”
In a small town like Lunenburg, Salvador is a huge employer. Usually.
“Pretty much all of our places would have been fully staffed right now”
The four restaurants provided 107 jobs last summer and right now have 14 on staff, not counting the two owners.
“About this time, we’d (normally) be at 80 per cent, getting students trained,” Salvador said.
“Pretty much all of our places would have been fully staffed right now, not necessarily full-time hours but pretty much everyone would be getting a few shifts here and there, certainly at front of house, not necessarily in back.”
Apart from having to adjust times for customers of the Salt Shaker to pick up their orders from 10 minutes apart to five, operations have gone smoothly.
“We had pickups pretty spread out, but a lot of people wanted to eat earlier so we set up the times so the majority of the orders are out before 6:30,” said the owner, who’s waiting for permission to open the patio space that spans the area between two of his restaurants.
“The province is, I assume, who will make those rules. Across North America there seem to be different ways – six feet apart or 50 per cent capacity. We’ll have to look at what they decide to do.”
Like all hospitality businesses on the South Shore, Salvador’s restaurants take in considerable revenue from Americans, whether they’re passing through or there for the summer. Making up that lost business will be crucial.
“I’d really like to see what I heard on the radio this weekend about this idea of a Maritime bubble or an Atlantic Canada bubble, where people can travel freely through that area,” he said.
“I know the border with the U.S. has been closed for another month, that brings us to the first day of summer. We have a lot of summer residents in our area from the U.S., so I don’t know how that’s going to pan out. If we can get local people travelling back and forth around the area, speaking for myself, we should be able to make it through this summer.
“The goal for this summer is to try to get most of our staff employed again, get them back in action and generate enough revenue to make it through the winter and hopefully start 2021 like we were planning to start 2020.”