As of this morning, Restaurants Canada estimates that 800,000 foodservice jobs have already been lost nationwide due to COVID-19. Nearly one out of 10 restaurants have already closed permanently and another 18 per cent will permanently close within a month if current conditions continue. In this dire situation, rather than turning inward or giving up, some modern-day industry heroes have found ways to help society in our time of need. Ana Mansell from Pepperoni Cafe shares her powerful story along with some helpful tips on take-out and delivery coronavirus safety (PS – don’t miss our yummy contest at the end!):
Matt (Surrey Eats) – Can you give us a brief history of Pepperoni Cafe and your involvement with it?
Ana Mansell (Pepperoni Cafe) – Pepperoni Cafe was founded in 2001, by Michael Dussault. I started here in 2002 as an employee when I was 17. I went back and forth between the Cafe and other jobs, but Pepperoni Cafe always felt like home. in 2016 Michael told me he needed to retire and wanted to pass the restaurant on to me before he put it up for sale. I agreed to take it on; my husband Neil and I purchased the restaurant and have been the owners ever since!
SE – I heard the former owner Michael still likes to pop in from time to time?
AM – Yes! He often helps out when we have large school orders helping me stay organized and making pizzas just like old times. We get in early to make the dough and pizzas, while blasting 70s rock, making 70 pizzas and catching up before we open for the day. No one can invent a new pizza like Mike can; he made us try everything from wild boar, to ostrich, to foie gras pizza. He has taught me that there are no limits to what kind of pizza I can make, and the crazier the better! He is like my work dad always providing advice and his opinion on new ideas or how to solve certain problems and how to navigate new situations. Him and I have formed a relationship that will last forever. He is Grandpa Mike to our son Wesley. He has been calling to check up on me and the business regularly since this has all started.
SE – What drew you to The Carvery’s Restaurant Challenge? Had you been active in other community initiatives in the past?
AM – We had started delivering to front-line pandemic workers prior to the Carvery’s Challenge, but when we saw it we knew we simply had to participate in this capacity as well! We know that all it takes is one or two people to step up and inspire a movement. We actively participate in community initiatives. Our community is so important to us here. We have done very successful fundraisers for local groups such as Deltassist, and Mamas for Mamas, for individuals in our community, and for schools. We believe that giving back to the community is what has given us such an amazing level of support during these extremely difficult times. We have also been doing Pay-It-Forward pizzas for years, where people can purchase pizza and hampers for families in need in our area. We have fed over 800 people and dropped off thousands of dollars worth of groceries to those who need a bit of extra help, who are sick, or are physically unable to cook and shop for themselves. Currently we are working with Mamas for Mamas collecting food and essentials for those with children who have been affected by the pandemic. We have been running school fundraisers every Monday-Thursday for varying schools here for the past two decades as well where 20% of the profits go back to the school when they order on specific nights of the week. We are also pairing up with other local businesses such as the local health food store, flower shop and bake shop to do “Pick me up” packages consisting of items from each business in one bundle. We are a pretty tight knit group of businesses here and we are doing all we can to help each other and support one another.
SE – How has the covid-19 pandemic affected your business at Pepperoni Cafe?
AM – It has changed so many aspects of how we conduct business. We – like every other restaurant – have had to close for dine-ins, change the way we do deliveries, how we handle money, the personal touches to our customer service. We have lost all of our catering and school orders, which make up about 30% of our business. The pandemic has shut down more than half of the business in Boundary Park Plaza, where we are located. We used to get 20-40 people coming in for lunch every day, for take out or eat in, now we are lucky if we see three customers before 3 PM. We are launching a meal prep site next week for those who want prepared meals delivered to their houses. The site is being built as we speak to offer more than just pizza; we will be doing home cooked meals via contactless delivery for a reasonable price, and are calling it Food Fairy by Pepperoni Cafe (www.foodfairy.ca) . We have literally had to change the way we run our business completely within the last two weeks, we have gone from a cafe serving pastries and soups and sandwiches and pizza to doing meal plans for those quarantined at home. While it may not seem like much it’s been an incredible effort to get going and it’s like we are all new employees again.
SE – Do you think the government is doing enough for the restaurant industry to ensure its survival?
AM – The government at this time is not doing enough to help restaurants stay afloat. While they are offering to cover 75% of the wages of employees, that is something that you need to qualify for and not all of us do. As for any other sort of “relief”, at the minute that comes in the form of loans or deferrals. If we stay open we will have to repay all the debt incurred during the pandemic. They are allowing us to keep the GST for now, but that will also have to be repaid. Restaurants for the most part are owned because of passion for food, community, and service. Most of the help is in form of loan, not relief. That will have to change if they want all of the small businesses to stay open. Our margins are pretty small, so to ask us to stay open and incur these debts would mean that when we reopen we will have to repay them and we will still be operating at little to no profit. That won’t cut it when we have families to feed and bills to pay.
SE – What’s your take on offering takeout and delivery during the outbreak? Can it be done safely and if so, how?
AM – We are taking every precaution to make sure that it is done safely. We sanitize all the surfaces with bleach as much as possible, we are constantly washing our hands, employees are staying home who have a cough – even if it’s just allergies. We are limiting the number of employees in the restaurant in order to comply with physical distancing, and allowing curbside pick up as well as contactless delivery. We have closed our entire dining room off to the public. We have been following the extremely strict policies put in place by Fraser Health (SE – here’s a link to BCCDC’s current guidelines for restaurants and consumers). We get asked often what our customers can do on their end to make it even safer, so here’s some coronavirus safety tips for take-out and delivery from restaurants:
Pepperoni Cafe’s Delivery and Take-out Tips for COVID-19 Safety:
- After we drop off the food, take the bag
- Wash your hands
- Remove the food from the container, place it on a plate, then wash your hands
- While at this moment the jury is still out on whether it kills COVID-19, it can’t hurt to reheat the food in the oven or microwave if you like
- Wash your hands
- Enjoy your dinner 🙂
- Wash your hands again after eating, and do not re-use the container
SE – Thanks for sharing those great safety tips for stopping the spread. On a lighter note, what are your favourite pizza toppings besides the obligatory pepperoni?
AM – I’m a sucker for Italian sausage and red peppers on pizza! I like my pizza simple and classic. My go-to is the Humble Pie with red peppers instead of green, with extra cheese!
SE – Can you tell us some of the must-have items your household stocked up on for social isolating?
AM – We didn’t do too much stocking up per say, but we have been eating a lot of comfort food right now. I’m making chilli, tacos, soups, and whole food to get us through. Nutrient dense, warm foods is where it’s at! But I also have a toddler at home so there may be a tiny bit of chicken nugget hoarding happening as well!
SE – You hear that Loblaws? Time to institute a one-nugget policy before the panic-buying sets in. Let’s all just keep calm and carry on, there will be enough chicken nuggets to go around if we all do our part. We got this!
Thank you for sharing your experience and for all of the kind work you’ve been doing in the community Ana.
As Pepperoni Cafe continues to deliver pizzas to healthcare workers, one dollar from every specialty pizza ordered for the month of April will go into their fund to to feed them. You can place an order here. And if that wasn’t enough, Pepperoni Cafe generously donated a $50 gift card for our Surrey Eats Pizza Cook-off!