The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.
It was an adrenaline-pumping restaurant rush hour Jonathan Reynaert and his staff will not soon forget.
A massive crowd of loyal customers turned out Sunday to support an Employee Appreciation Day that Reynaert, co-owner of Jonny Canuck’s Bar & Grill in Orléans, hosted in support of his staff, most of whom temporarily lost their jobs or had their hours reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related government-imposed restrictions.
So heavy was the demand for dinner orders that the restaurant couldn’t keep up.
In the end, the popular eatery made $11,000 in sales and gratuities during a very short, intense period of time. All the money – except for what’s owed to the tax man – went to the employees to help soften their financial hardship.
“Everyone was blown away by the community support,” said Reynaert. “We just can’t believe the community came together when they saw what we were doing and supported us to that extent.”
Of course, Jonny Canuck’s Bar & Grill has also been feeling the sting of COVID-19 over the past seven months but “I don’t want the focus to be on me or the restaurant,” Reynaert insisted at the start of the interview held at his business, located just off Trim Road in Ottawa's east end.
The team at Jonny Canuck's is like family to Reynaert. He has employees who’ve been with him since the restaurant first opened, nearly 15 years ago. There’s very little staff turnover.
“I wanted to do something positive that would help people who have helped Jonny Canuck’s get to where we are,” Reynaert explained. “Their plight and their struggle is no less severe than a business owners’. I’m hurting, but they’re hurting, too.”
Reynaert announced Sunday morning that he was going to host the appreciation day for staff. Since Oct. 10, indoor dining in Ottawa has been closed for a second time this year and his customers are back to ordering takeout food or eating on his outdoor patio.
“I’m just so tired of the doom and gloom of the pandemic,” he explained. “Everything’s so negative. Every day, more news comes out and the goalposts keep shifting as to when we’re going to get to the end. Now it’s a little bit further away. Now you can’t do this and you can’t do that.
“People need something positive to hold on to, something positive to look forward to.”
What happened next left people shedding tears of joy. Jonny Canuck’s was swamped with family-sized dinner orders on Sunday. Sales for that day nearly reached $8,000. The remaining $3,000 or so came from big-tipping customers. Two people contributed $500 each without ordering anything.
The online orders kept coming at an astonishing rate, averaging two or three per minute between 4:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and coinciding with a flood of phone orders. Outside, the patio was busy and there were dozens of physically-distanced customers waiting to collect their food.
“It was an unmanageable rush,” said Reynaert, who was hustling, non-stop, alongside a bunch of his employees. “We were just completely overwhelmed.”
By 5:30 pm, the restaurant couldn’t accept further dinner orders because the waits were too long. They got their last order out at 7:30 p.m.
"I had visions of takeout containers dancing to the Shopify dings in my head all night."
Each time an online order was made through e-commerce platform Shopify, a cash register sound effect would ring and, no doubt, evoke a touch of nostalgia for some.
“I had visions of takeout containers dancing to the Shopify dings in my head all night. It was crazy."
The money made during the Oct. 18 dinner rush is comparable to the restaurant's sales on an average Sunday that stretches from the early morning to late-evening hours, said Reynaert.
Long-time employee Megan Wagstaff isn't one to get overly emotional but she was among the employees to get teary-eyed when they received their cheques. She’s had her work hours reduced at the restaurant due to the pandemic.
“We were overwhelmed with gratitude from the support from both Jon and the community,” said Wagstaff, a graduate student.
There is a sense of family among the employees, she said, while adding that the bond extends to their customers.
“It starts from the top with how well we’re treated by our boss, Jon. He has such a kind heart and he’s always willing to lend a hand to help us when he can. For all of us, it’s even more special that he was willing to be so generous at a time when he and the restaurant are struggling.
“Not only did he have the idea to run this day for the staff but he, himself, was there working alongside the staff to get all the orders out to the customers. He was devoting his time, energy and money to help us.”
Reynaert believes Jonny Canuck’s will pull through the pandemic. The business was doing well and was debt-free before COVID-19 hit, he said. As a small businessman, Reynaert has had to “learn on the fly” how to deal with changing rules, guidelines and protocols thrown at the restaurant industry. There have been good days – er, make that OK days – and bad days, said Reynaert, who, with business partner Scott Cavers, opened their second Jonny Canuck’s location in Ottawa’s Findlay Creek neighbourhood in 2012. The two locations employed a combined 75 to 100 part- and full-time people before the pandemic. Now, the number is down to 15.
While Jonny Canuck’s is “really struggling,” there are other small businesses that are “really, really, really struggling," said Reynaert.
“It’s heartbreaking. People put their whole life into something, and for something that’s completely out of their control to come along and take it all away, and take it away from their employees, too, it’s unfair.”
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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