The coronavirus has upended the restaurant industry like almost nothing else, making it difficult to stay afloat. So, when Ottawa, Ontario, Local 2228 was asked to share some outdoor space with a next-door business in need, they were happy to do their part and help put a few of their neighbors back to work.
"We're just trying to help a neighbor get back on their feet," said Business Manager Paul Cameron.
The local's office is located on Wellington Street West, right next to Bar Laurel, a Spanish tapas-style restaurant. With indoor activities still carrying so much risk, restaurants have had to switch to outdoor seating wherever possible. But like a lot of establishments, that could only go so far. When Bar Laurel owner Jon Svazas reached out to Local 2228 to see if his neighbor would be willing to share what they had, he thought it would be just the space in front of the hall, enough for a couple more tables.
But Cameron suggested the alley between the two buildings as well as the parking lot in the back, which was mostly empty since so few people were coming in. That inspired Svazas to get to work on repurposing the lot. He cut a hole in the fence separating the establishments and put in a few stairs for easy access. He also added picnic tables, tents and patio lights to allow for a complete outdoor dining experience.
"We weren't using the space, so it made sense to offer it," Cameron said. "It's an easy thing we could do to help."
Without this outside option, Bar Laurel would have been left with indoor seating that could only be used at about a third of its normal capacity, since it has to allow for the required six feet (or two meters) between customers. That means the chance to only make a fraction of its pre-COVID-19 revenue.
"It's nearly impossible to be profitable even when we're at full capacity in the restaurant business," Svazas said. "This extra seating has definitely helped. We were able to hire four people back."
Cameron and Svazas signed a contract for the space around the end of June. It was offered at a symbolic amount of $1 a month and was available to the bar through the end of September, though Cameron says they could certainly revisit it and extend the contract for a longer time if needed.
"You can't always count on a friendly neighbor, but that's what we got this time," Svazas said. "They definitely went above and beyond."
While headquartered in Ottawa, the 1,900-member local represents government employees across the country, from the east to the west coast and all the way up to the Arctic circle. Members work in practically every agency, including the Coast Guard and Department of National Defence, as electrical technologists and technicians, on everything from radios to missiles.