From vibrant to ‘completely decimated’

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Petrolia’s largest restaurant will change hands

Heather Wright/The Independent

Jenna Gorzeman says her restaurant went from super vibrant to “completely decimated” since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

So, after 10 years of running the Crabby Joe’s franchise in Petrolia, she’s turning it back to Obsidian Group and getting out of the restaurant business.

The group negotiated a 20-year lease on the building and Gorzeman, at 23, took on a 10-year francise agreement and opened the restaurant doors. The community support carried her through nine good years, until business came to a halt during the pandemic.
In the last few weeks, representatives from Obsidian Group called to ask how they would proceed with the next 10 years. “I decided that it just wasn’t worth it. So I said ‘you know what, actually, I’m going to hand the reins back over to you.’”

Sunday, Gorzeman and her crew will close the doors for the last time. Obsidian will take over and may rebrand the restaurant. “They’re hoping to retain as many staff here as want to stay basically and then carry forward.”

Gorzeman tells The Independent there were a number of factors behind the decision including the change in her personal life from a single person to mother of three.
But the biggest factor was more than a year of trying to follow the provincial government’s regulations to control the pandemic and how that has taken a toll on the business.

In 2019, Gorzeman says, the restaurant in Petrolia’s downtown employed 50 people and pulled in $2.5 million. The pandemic rolled in and chopped that to $1.5 million in 2020.

So far this year, Gorzeman says they may have brought in $300,000 at best.
With over 5,500 square feet, it’s been hard to scale back to a takeout only operation.

Gorzeman says they’ve taken advantage of all the government help that’s been available, including wage subsides, but with a larger restaurant, a business grant of $20,000 doesn’t even cover a month of bills. “It’s not even keeping the business afloat,” she says.

“The amount of time and especially stress that’s been associated with this business that was super vibrant and viable and has now been basically completely decimated; I just can’t handle it anymore, to be honest. It’s a lot of stress,” she says.

Much of the pressure came from the constant changes restaurants across the province were told to make as the COVID-19 virus hit, receded and then roared back again.

“Every single time it happens, we have to gear up and gear down so significantly with our inventory, with our staff… it’s like every three, four or five weeks. And it’s exhausting.

“Actually, I don’t have it in me to do this anymore because I’m fatigued. I’m emotionally exhausted. And to what end? Because I feel like the future for these large spaces is really uncertain, because it lies so much in what the government allows us to do. And that scares me.”

So, for the near future, Gorzeman will focus on the revitalization of Kingswell Glen Golf Club and hopes in the near future to make progress on the proposed Kingswell Hotel. It had to be put on hold as material costs drove up the cost of construction.

Gorzeman, who earlier expressed frustration with how COVID-19 regulations affect businesses in a letter to the editor, says governments should remember that even with large scale programs to help businesses get through this pandemic, it is not enough to keep every business open.

“I think there’s a much greater impact on the actions that people take than they recognize,” she says adding government shouldn’t “underestimate the power that small communities and small businesses in those communities, the power that they have for the mental health and well being of our people.”