There’s something about the atmosphere at The Oakwood Cafe in Winnipeg that keeps people coming back. They have a dishwasher that’s been there since day one in 1992, and a server that’s been there since 2005. Up until March 2020 when the pandemic began and they were forced to close, they had a regular that had come in for breakfast every day for the past fifteen years.
The current owner Wendy May admits that virtually everyone on staff has been there for longer than her due to Oakwood’s Café’s community feeling and inviting atmosphere. The Pandemic has forced them to downsize from their original staff of twenty-one to just ten, but Wendy hopes that as things return to normal, she’ll be able to re-hire as many staff as possible. She describes the process of navigating the government wage subsidy program as complex and found it difficult to determine the best staffing strategy to make it through these uncertain times.
“The most difficult part about the pandemic is the uncertainty for local businesses. Will we still be in this position in a month? A year? Nobody knows.” Wendy describes. “Small businesses are operating day-to-day, and eventually the subsidies will run out. Some landlords are also hesitant to apply to them because the process can be quite complicated.”
The Oakwood, like nearly all other restaurants across Canada, has seen a significant decline in sales during the pandemic. Their complete closure in April and May of 2020 rendered them with no sales, and since then sales have been slowly increasing. The unfortunate reality is that with 50% restaurant capacity, it’s difficult to have more than 50% of your typical sales for any given month. To mitigate the restaurant’s decreased capacity, The Oakwood team set up an online ordering system for takeout and delivery with a reduced menu. Typical delivery apps charge a hefty commission of 30% or more, and restaurants with their typically slim margins really struggle to make any profit when using them.
Wendy speculates that 70% of their orders now come from Door Dash. As a business that doesn’t charge a markup on Door Dash items, this distribution method could be detrimental. She remains hopeful that things will eventually go back to the way they were before, with dine-in being their main source of income. The Oakwood takes pride in its welcoming atmosphere, and wants its customers to feel like they’re “going to a friend’s house for a meal.” They value their loyal regulars and hope to see them in-house as soon as they feel comfortable dining in.
“In these times, everyone should go out and support their local businesses. It’s the same situation in every town across Canada. There’s no better time to explore things you haven’t in the past because these small businesses need you now more than ever.” Wendy explains. “Go try that local taco shop down the street, or the corner store you’ve been meaning to visit.”
For more information on The Oakwood, please visit https://oakwoodcafe.ca/.