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Owner who kept her seasonal restaurant closed last year plans to be back this season
It was a decision she couldn’t take lightly, but Katie Hayes felt it was the safest bet for her seasonal restaurant to remain closed for 2020.
“The largest part was the unknown,” said the owner of the Bonavista Social Club. “It all happened so fast, and it happened so close to the time when we’d be heading into full swing. We made the decision (to) financially to stay afloat, we could not afford that risk. We could afford being closed for one year, but we could not afford a down year.”
She stepped away from the restaurant — known for its pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven — and got to spend more time with her husband and business partner, Shane Hayes, and their young children. Now she’s looking towards the 2021 tourism season. Despite the ongoing presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hayes is ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
“I think keeping the communication open and just really reaching out to businesses around us and all supporting each other is going to be even more (essential) this year than it’s ever been,” she said. “I’m definitely learning too that there are a bunch of ways we can adapt to still keep the business alive.”
Tourism has been important to Hayes and a lot of other businesses on Newfoundland’s Bonavista Peninsula. The picturesque community of Trinity, where almost every building looks like a belongs to a bygone era, has been a major tourist attraction in the province for decades. The Town of Bonavista — a 20-minute drive from Hayes’ restaurant in Upper Amherst Cove — has upped its game over the last number of years, with a variety of new businesses popping up in newly-renovated historic buildings. The Discovery Geopark earned a UNESCO designation last year for its natural splendor and brought further attention to the region.
Sarah Rochacewich and her husband, Adam, have a significant stake in the region’s tourism economy. They’re the owners of Aunt Sarah’s Chocolate in Trinity and Sweet Rock Ice Cream. The latter business has locations in Trinity and Bonavista that, like the chocolate shop, open seasonally.
Both companies started with just the shops and over the last couple of years started to do wholesale business with grocery stores and gift shops. But Rochacewich said it’s the standalone shops that still account for the majority of their revenue. Last year’s spring lockdown in Newfoundland and Labrador and travel restrictions took their toll.
“Last year was totally different than any other year,” she said. “We opened a lot later ... And overall, it was a tough year.”
Rochacewich was, however, pleasantly surprised by the support shown by staycationers who decided to take in the sights of their home province.
“It all helps,” she said. “Compared to a normal year, we were greatly impacted, just because the sheer number of people that were travelling throughout the province was significantly down. But the number of Newfoundlanders that did choose to travel around was great to see.”
For the upcoming tourism season, Rochacewich is trying to plan as best she can, given there are still plenty of unknowns to contend with. The province experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases last month, but the number of total active cases has trended in the right direction more recently. Last year’s Atlantic bubble, an experiment that did bring some people to Newfoundland and Labrador, remains on hold.
“Based on the little bit of information that we have right now, I would assume we’re in for a similar year,” she said.
Now is a time when many businesses with a seasonal component start making investments necessary to get ready for the coming months. Having experienced 2020 helps as far as planning goes for this year’s tourism season, Rochacewich said.
“If you wait too long to get going, you won’t be ready in time,” she noted. “So, you have to take that risk and make a call.”
Bonavista Social Club will remain closed for remainder of the 2020 season. We will take this time to reassess what next...Posted by Bonavista Social Club on Wednesday, June 3, 2020
According to Hayes, the Bonavista Social Club gets a lot of local support, but tourism has been a substantial part of the business’ growth over the years. In 2019, the restaurant had 26 employees on its payroll.
“Every year, there’s more and more tourists,” she said. “Compared to when we opened (in 2011) to now, we never could have imagined that tourism would have grown to where it is.”
Looking back on the decision not to open in 2020, Hayes has no regrets. She said it was a chance to recharge and redevelop their ideas for the business.
“It was not an easy decision, and we really missed the restaurant and really missed being here,” she said. “It made us realize this is what we want to be doing, and we’re going to make it work, one way or another.”
With extra time to prepare for the upcoming tourism season, Hayes said her business is ready to remain flexible. Takeout service and private dining for people living within a bubble could be part of the restaurant’s future depending on how things unfold. Hayes has more recently started offering some online cooking classes, and the business has accepted some wedding bookings and catering gigs.
“I keep panicking about it and then realize it’s only March and I actually have zero control and I actually have zero idea of how May will look,” she said. “We’re just cooking all the time and redoing floors and all the things that need to be done and thinking about all the things that we can do right now. Then hopefully, if restrictions lift, that can continue on into more and more activities.”
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- Resilience is part of a history that attracts visitors to this Newfoundland town
- Bonavista Peninsula Discovery Geopark earns UNESCO designation
- IN PHOTOS: Historic Newfoundland and Labrador town of Trinity in limbo at start of tourist season
- Staycations make or break for $1-billion Newfoundland and Labrador tourism season