You may know Bandidas in East Van as the go-to place to indulge in handmade vegetarian & vegan food. They’ve taken pride in serving the Vancouver community plant-based burritos, tacos, nachos and other items since 2009. Boasting margaritas made with limes squeezed fresh daily and tortillas cooked minutes before they’re placed on your plate, Bandidas prioritizes quality and giving back to the East Van community.
Although Bandidas has been able to continue feeding Vancouverites during the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurant operations have been far from normal for co-owners Jackie-Rae Avery and Aiyana Kane. From abiding by public health guidelines to dealing with the shift from dine-in to takeout, every day has presented new challenges and endless uncertainty.
As most Canadians have experienced, the list of protocols for restaurants to implement to ensure guest and employee safety is extensive. Instead of purchasing plexiglass barriers (which cost a pretty penny), the Bandidas team was able to upcycle old windows into barriers to support physical distancing guidelines. Moreover, the shift from being a dine-in restaurant to a takeout joint was a huge adjustment. They had to entirely redesign their packaging, overhaul their POS system, renovate the kitchen and re-engineer their current operations to support the influx of takeout orders. Before the pandemic, Bandidas was not on Uber Eats, DoorDash, Skip the Dishes, etc. Registering with all the delivery services and learning how to use their software was a massive learning curve for Jackie-Rae and Aiyana, whose focus had previously been innovative high-quality cooking and not technology.
“It was like opening an entirely new restaurant” Jackie-Avery describes. “We’re lucky that our menu is takeout friendly. Burritos can be made to-go. It’s unfortunate for restaurants that serve pub food, fries just aren’t the same cold.”
Accommodating the provincial health and safety guidelines would have been quite expensive if Jackie-Rae and Aiyana hadn’t been willing to work long hours. The duo was working 12 hour days to navigate the entire transition themselves but had they hired external help, it would have gotten expensive. The Bandidas staff went from 60 people to 12 over the first few months, and dealing with that staff reduction was yet another barrier for the restaurant to overcome. Another nightmare came in the form of scheduling the remaining staff members and the ethical dilemma of employee safety versus staying open to cover costs.
“The biggest challenge was that everything was changing so quickly. We’d open for the day and then the government would issue a new required protocol, effective immediately. There was and still is so much uncertainty around the situation. It’s costly to close down the restaurant once you’ve already opened.” states Jackie-Avery.
As for the restaurant industry, Jackie-Avery believes it will never fully recover from this pandemic. Many restaurants have already closed, but she believes that the peak is yet to come. Culturally, eating out isn’t as popular as it used to be, and Canadians are shifting towards takeout and delivery nights in the comfort of their own homes over the old-school dine-in experience. Even post-pandemic when social distancing is no longer a requirement, customers will not flock to restaurants in the same volume that they once did.
For more information on Bandidas or to order some delicious vegetarian grub, please visit www.bandidastaqueria.com.