News on the weekend that an iconic Calgary restaurant was closing its doors for good has spread like wildfire on social media networks as people react to the end of an era for Buon Giorno – a well-known dining establishment that over the years hosted business and political power brokers.
On the weekend, Claudio Carnali, one of the owners of the establishment, posted a simple notice on the windows of the popular dining destination along the busy 17th Avenue S.W. corridor, located just outside the downtown core.
“We are Sorry,” said the sign. “Buon Giorno Ristorante Italiano is closed for good under the management of Claudio and Michael Carnali. Thank you to all our patrons for their continuous support over the past 4 years.”
Under the previous owners, Buon Giorno had operated from the late 1980s as a brand, becoming one of the city’s most recognized restaurants. Famous politicians and business executives frequented it including former Calgary Mayor and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.
But a number of factors, including the current COVID-19 crisis, led to the difficult decision of permanent closure. Unfortunately, it’s a decision that is being contemplated by many in the industry as economic challenges persist.
“One of the main reasons was the capacity of 40 or 50 percent there was no way we could even survive,” said Carnali, of the provincial government’s guidelines for reopening of restaurants. “Of course, having to sanitize the bathroom every time people went in and most probably putting the plexiglass and so on and so forth.”
Other factors included high rental costs and the possibility of that increasing. “My wife and I decided that it wasn’t worth it because what happens in the fall if the curve (of COVID) cases starts to go up again and the government comes and says we’ll have to shut everybody down again. And not knowing how long and putting the money out to reopen and then losing it, I would have to pretty much start using my retirement money. So it’s better that we close,” explained Carnali, who was also the owner of the Il Gato Nero restaurant in Calgary which closed down permanently following the city’s big flood in 2013.
“It was very hard. When you start doing all these calculations plus the money you need to reopen . . . it just left us with no choice but to close. We feel bad. It’s hard to make a living when you have full capacity but when you go down to 40 to 50 percent capacity that’s tough. I’ve been a restaurant owner since 1993. It’s been really tough.”
“I’ve talked to a number of members over the last couple of months that have gone through that painful decision to close. It’s not easy,” he said.
Some restaurants that can, have already reopened after being temporarily closed during the COVID shutdown. Some are still looking to reopen but they want to make sure they have their plans in place.
“Basically it’s a new business plan. Can they actually make a go of it at 50 percent capacity. Some have done the math and they’ve concluded that they can’t make a go of it at 50 percent capacity. So that’s a problem,” said von Schellwitz.
“One of the things that did help in making that calculation was the extension of the wage subsidy but even there you can probably make a business case with the wage subsidy that you can be viable but what happens when that’s finished at the end of August. You’re still likely going to be at 50 percent capacity but then you have to pay the full wage cost. That may be the tipping point where it’s no longer viable.
“The other big reason that we’re hearing that people can’t reopen is they just have no more working capital to work with. They’ve used all their emergency funds in the last couple of months and as you know opening up a restaurant takes some money. You’ve got to purchase your perishable inventory, you’ve got to get your staff back in, train them, you have to put a whole new plan together. That takes time and that takes money.”
He said many restaurant owners have put their life savings into the industry and they’ve had a rough go of it even before the COVID crisis just to try and break even.
“Now with no cash flow at all, it’s forcing a lot of those small restaurateurs to make a decision of whether or not it’s feasible reopening or do they cut their losses now,” he said.
“Without some of these government programs there’s no way it would be feasible for them to open and even with the programs it may be feasible for the next few months but if conditions don’t change they just don’t see this as a long-term working model unless of course they’re changing a lot of their focus to take out and delivery because I think that’s going to be here to stay.”
Calgary restaurant owners Cam Dobranski and Jacqueline Warrell have decided to close one of their establishments, Brasserie Kensington, but will reopen with a new concept. The Brasserie was open for about 10 years. The decision to close Brasserie was made prior to COVID.
“We were looking to change with the times. We were ready for a change. We felt Calgarians were ready for a change. The economy in Calgary and Alberta hasn’t been great for the last couple of years. Brasserie just ran its course. I think restaurants have a certain lifespan and it was time for something new. The new concept we have planned is actually even more relevant now than it was pre-COVID,” said Warrell.
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Hello friends, Today is a big day for us! It is with mixed emotions that we announce Brasserie Kensington is closing its doors. The decision was not an easy one, but we were hungry for a change and felt you were too! So we will not be closing the doors for very long. . We are excited to pivot and offer Calgarians something truly different in Kensington! Get excited and stay tuned for more about our reopening with a refreshed look, new vibe, and fun menu. All we can say right now is expect the unexpected! . Saturday will be our final service as Brasserie Kensington. As an ode to an amazing ten years, we have some classic French dishes on this weekend’s takeout menu. We hope you will join in our excitement of new things to come and celebrating 10 years of great memories while you dine at home this weekend. ❤️ Cam + Jacq #brasseriekensington #yycfood #yyceats #supportlocal #staytuned @chefcamd @jacqwarrell
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One of the positive things to come out of covid for us, has been getting back to having fun with planning and cooking meals that we wouldn't normally get to feed you! It's got the creative juices going and we've been doing a lot of reimagining what food, menus and restaurant life will look like post covid. Stay tuned for more on that front! . But right now, we are excited to share the menu for another week of Isolation Kitchen! . Tuesdays have morphed into Chinese Brasserie night and at the request of many we are making @chefcamd’s version of General Tso Chicken again. . Wednesday is all about the beach hut raggae vibes with jerk chicken. . And for Friday, we're putting ourselves up to the challenge in Isolation Kitchen of doing Beef Wellington to go. True story! . So, while you're enjoying this long weekend, get your pre-orders in - link in bio. And we look forward to giving ya wave at the pick-up door this week! #yycfood #yyceats #yyctakeout #yycdining #yycliving #yycbrunch
“The new concept is designed to be much more approachable in terms of food, price point. It’s intended to be fun. The idea behind it was to get back to having more fun with food, simple roots.”
Like everyone else in the industry, it has been a challenge.
“To put it into perspective, we probably worked 14 hours for eight weeks straight and never made any money. It’s extremely difficult,” said Dobranski. “Luckily we have a lot of people supporting us and our landlord is helping us out as well. Otherwise we would have been done about seven and a half weeks ago.”
“Margins in the restaurant business are so small as it is. The economy in Alberta hasn’t been great for awhile. I think there’s been a lot of restaurants that have been just surviving so when COVID happened it wasn’t like they had stockpiles of savings to draw on. That isn’t a reality. I think it’s going to be tough for us and for restaurants coming out of this too.”
Warrell and Dobranski also own two other establishments - Winebar Kensington and the Container Bar - and with social distancing measures in place they will open between 30 to 40 percent capacity. They are also partners in Shokunin, another Calgary restaurant.