The London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund has been created in partnership with Club House for Chefs and McCormick Canada, the Middlesex London Food Policy Council, Pillar Nonprofit Network, rTraction, Tourism London and the Western Fair District. The fund awards eligible, independent restaurant operators with grants of $1,000 to support their businesses to open or remain open through the difficult times caused by COVID-19.
The London-Middlesex Restaurant Support fund all began with a brilliant idea from Anna Stolee, Senior Director of Sales and Marketing for the Food Service Division of McCormick Canada. “Our company has been in London for 137 years and we wanted to provide restaurants in our community with financial assistance to help them cover costs inflicted by the pandemic,” says Stolee. Her idea led to McCormick Canada seeding the London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund with a $30,000 contribution.
McCormick Canada is the Canadian division of the global spice and seasoning company, the largest of its kind in the world. Anna Stolee describes McCormick as one of London’s “best kept secrets.” The company has three facilities in London, providing 650 jobs in our community. McCormick owns a multitude of brands including Club House, McCormick Gourmet, Billy Bee Honey, French’s, Frank’s Red Hot, Cattleman’s, Thai Kitchen, and many others. All of these products are being made right here in London, Ontario.
Stolee has experienced the burdens of COVID-19 firsthand and states, “The food service industry has been devastated by COVID-19 — this includes restaurants, hospitality, stadiums, conferences, and anywhere that people would eat food away from home.” In fact, a July survey by Restaurants Canada found that more than half of the restaurants in Canada are continually operating at a loss since the beginning of the pandemic (Restaurants Canada, 2020).
With the implications of the pandemic, restaurants have had to make some changes to their preconceived ‘normal.’ “We have seen restaurants adapt their business models to do a lot more take out. Restaurants are making pre-made meals for consumers to make at home, they are selling alcohol, or selling groceries,” says Stolee. Yet, despite this abundance of innovation in the restaurant industry, very thin margins have resulted in these new ideas not being enough. Stolee adds, “There has been a fair amount of government support in terms of wage subsidy and rent protection, but these are going to end.”
Stolee believes that the most important concern of employees and patrons returning to restaurants is safety. “Restaurants have to ramp up their sanitization policies, provide masks and safety gear to staff and have limited capacities in their space,” she says. However, she also realizes that these costs can be burdensome to restaurants and add another difficult layer to the obstacles restaurants are struggling with right now.
Stolee, like many, enjoys the vast array of restaurants in the London-Middlesex area. “Everybody loves to go out to a restaurant. Everybody would feel the pain if we didn’t have our restaurants as a part of our community. They are such a large part of our social and community network,” says Stolee. She has been enjoying ordering takeout with her family and encourages restaurants to give consumers a reason to continue buying food from their establishments. “It is critical to give the best experience to your customers, as takeout is here to stay,” she adds.
“People become restaurant owners because they are passionate about what they are doing. They do not need the extra grief and concerns that COVID-19 has brought upon them,” says Stolee. “We at McCormick wanted to do what we could to help ease the burden restaurants are experiencing at this time. We know this fund will not solve all problems, but it is our way of showing that we hear you, we get what you are going through, and we hope this is something that will help you out.”
The London-Middlesex Restaurant Support Fund has has already awarded grants to twenty-seven restaurants and is continuing to look for local enterprises to step up and support the fund. To apply to this fund or to make a contribution, please visit lmrsf.ca.
Written by: Colleen Crunican