Struggling amid lack of tourism, Pender Island restaurant starts fundraiser to survive
VANCOUVER -- The restaurant industry has been one of the economic sectors hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact has been catastrophic for many restaurants, especially those reliant on another hard-hit sector: tourism.
As one of the only restaurants on Pender Island, Jo's Place fits squarely at the confluence of those two industries, and owner Jo Down says it's possible the restaurant won't survive.
The pandemic left him with two options, he says. He could sell the restaurant for what he believes would be significantly less than its usual value, or he could ask for help to stay afloat.
"Yesterday, I showed it to a potential buyer and my heart broke," Down told CTV News Vancouver Island via Facetime. "That was sort of the defining factor of when I decided maybe I should do a fundraiser."
He set up a fundraising page on Facebook explaining his predicament. In it, he writes that the provincial health order to shut down in March led to "immediate financial losses, compounded by scheduled financial commitments."
Pandemic-related assistance from the federal and provincial governments isn't enough to save the four-year-old restaurant, which would normally be ramping for the summer season right now, Down said.
"(We were) sort of rocked and shocked and caught off guard," he told CTV News. "When we designed our financial plan for the season, it certainly didn't have a pandemic in it."
Jo's Place is a community hub on Pender Island, he said, but it relies heavily on revenue from tourism.
"You generate as much revenue as you can during the tourism knowing that at the end of the season you're going to have to have collected enough revenue to make it through the next fall and winter," Down explained.
Down said he was reluctant to ask for help, but once he launched the Facebook fundraiser, help started pouring in.
The page launched Friday. By Saturday afternoon, 110 people had donated more than $16,000 to support the restaurant.
Messages and donations have come in from the local community, but also from around the world, Down said, naming Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Texas and California as places he's heard from since the fundraiser began.
"Clientele we've served over the years reaching out and saying, 'Don't (sell), we don't want to lose you,'" Down said, describing the reaction.
"The community is so immensely supportive of what we do that if we could just get it back off the ground again and do something, I know the community of a couple thousand people and the massive clientele base that we've built over the years that can't come to the island right now, they'll come back," he said.
The fundraising page lists a goal of $95,000, and Down says it will stay active until July.