Restaurant co-owner Kaleigh Burns has all the bases covered, from diner-style breakfast and lunch offerings at Robie Street Station to trendy Mexican/Chinese street foods at El Chino. To the average passerby, the two restaurants look like separate establishments serving polar-opposite styles of cuisine, but behind the scenes, the restaurants share a communal kitchen, computer system, and staff.
Kaleigh finds that since the two restaurants have such varied offerings, she’ll see the same people that came for breakfast at RSS in the morning come for El Chino at night. Despite there being two full restaurants to run, they only have 9 employees, including Kaleigh herself. In the early pandemic days, Kaleigh had to lay off all her staff as there was no foreseeable wage subsidy. Now, eight staff members have returned to the restaurant, feeling secure enough with the health and safety protocols in place.
“One of the biggest challenges was retraining staff to do only one task for the sake of preventing germ spread. Servers are used to doing any task that they see needs to get done, and it went against their nature to ignore that reflex. But our girls are amazing and have evolved quickly.” Explains Kaleigh. “The safety measures put in place by the government, although necessary to keep our staff and customers safe can turn a cozy dining room and warm hospitality into a distant, sterile, uncomfortable experience and sales reflect that.”
When the restaurant industry turned to takeout in the early pandemic stages, El Chino found themselves at a crossroads. Their food wasn’t experienced the same when eaten cold, and with takeout, cold food is the unfortunate reality. Instead, Kaleigh and the team decided to do three “takeout days” for special occasions, with a special menu and all marketing efforts done in advance. The decision to do these takeout days was a financial one, with the hopes to raise enough to cover one or two bills.
The east coast community is so loyal and she received a great deal of support for the initiative, but she noticed that locals were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many Halifax locals were struggling financially due to the pandemic, and people were placing orders on these takeout days just to support her, not because they could afford it.
The eventual decision to re-open the restaurants came from the sense that they didn’t know how long the pandemic would go on for, and recognized that they needed to start adapting. A few Halifax restaurants remain closed to this day, with hopes that social distancing perimeters will ease by 2021. They have found it difficult to operate, and cover costs with 50% capacity and other social distancing guidelines.
“My heart hopes things will go back to normal when things pass, but my business mind says that we need to adjust. This is a new world, and this may not be the last time that this happens.” States Kaleigh.
For more information on El Chino’s, please visit https://elchinosnackbar.com/.