Family-owned Asian fusion restaurant Odd Couple is a first-hand witness of how COVID-19 is affecting the business climate today. The owners, Andy Yuen and Rachel Kong, had to promptly adapt to the unexpected speed of the pandemic.
According to Yuen, Odd Couples’ usual rush of customers slowed to a trickle due to COVID-19, starting in March. This was around the time when the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada increased.
This decline is because most of their customers are from out of Saskatoon. Due to the growing concern of the virus, travel between provinces is limited and conferences have been cancelled.
This concern now extends to the summer months. Considering the current situation, Yuen believes that business will further decline with the drop of travellers to Saskatoon.
Once the virus made its way to the United States, Vancouver and Toronto, even the locals became more conscious about going out and socializing.
When the first case was confirmed in Saskatoon on March 12, the oncoming week presented a further decline in sales. Yuen mentioned how the cancellation of major events at this point in time also resulted in the loss of financial growth for local businesses. The cancellation of the Junos was particularly devastating for business.
“From a financial perspective, it was tough for a lot of local businesses,” Yuen said.
In order to do their part to slow the spread of the virus, Odd Couple switched to take-out and delivery services instead of their usual dine-in service starting on March 17.
The staff have been engaging in stricter health measures by washing their hands more frequently, as well as sanitizing counters and the debit machine after every interaction with a customer. They also make sure to practice social distancing within the workplace, especially in the kitchen.
The restaurant has kept the same kitchen crew from when they first opened six years ago. They don’t intend to, nor do they wish to, lay off any of their staff, but over the past week, there have been a few mornings when they had to send staff members home due to slow business. This is part of a protective measure to limit the number of people within the restaurant whenever they can.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, so does discrimination against Chinese and East Asian people due to the fact that the virus started in China.
Asian-owned businesses in Canada such as restaurants and markets have been suffering because of this xenophobia and racism fueled issue. Yuen is grateful for Saskatoon’s supportive community and for the restaurant’s loyal customers who continue to use their food services.
“People come in. They are awesome. They understand that we’re just a small local business just like my neighbours, just like everyone else in Saskatoon,” Yuen said. “So they understand that we try our best to survive and they are very, very supportive. I am very fortunate.”
With a world health crisis of this scale, it is hard to tell where a business could be in the next year or even in the next month — only time will tell.
Yuen also pointed out how the deteriorating employment rate due to the virus slowing down the economy reduces the chances of people spending money at local restaurants. Taking this into consideration, he expects to continue with Odd Couple’s delivery service in the following months to compensate for the loss of local customers wanting to dine-in.
Everyone must do their part when faced with this level of adversity, where the health of the most vulnerable is at risk. Although social distancing limits the capacity of customers they can serve, it will play a major part in reducing the spread of the virus. The more cautious everyone is, the faster these local businesses can recover.
Yuen encourages everyone in Saskatoon to continue supporting local services during this time. Small businesses like Odd Couple are the backbone of an economy, especially in Canada where over 90 per cent of businesses are small and local.
The whole world is left with an air of uncertainty as we move forward in this chapter of our lives. For local businesses like Odd Couple, the best way to handle this type of uncertainty is to be prepared to adapt and adjust to any drastic changes that may come along the way.
“If I want to survive, I have to adjust,” Yuen said.
Photos: Tomilola Ojo/ Culture Editor