In late March, when the Ontario government allowed bars and restaurants to add alcohol to food and delivery orders, it was a lifeline for Z Bar & Grille.
“We hustled. We got everything in place … and we made it, says Suzette Henry, the owner of the Jamaican pub near Keele St. and Eglinton Ave. W. “We have not had to close. I have not been allowed to fire anyone or fire anyone. ”
But in the midst of a new deadlock, a new partnership between LCBO, a Crown company and the food delivery service SkipTheDishes to provide home delivery at the request of alcohol has taken “the wind right out of my sails”, says Henry.
Announced on Friday, the partnership, which begins with 15 LCBO locations in Toronto, is drawing fire from struggling independent restaurant owners here, who say they can not compete with LCBO’s prices. They say the partnership flies in the face of the image that Prime Minister Doug Ford has presented of himself during the pandemic as a champion for small businesses.
“Doug Ford should never have allowed this, it’s an easy shot for already lame restaurants and bars,” said Jen Agg, who owns several restaurants in Toronto, including Rhum Corner and Bar Vendetta. Agg noted that bars and restaurants “do not receive wholesale prices” from LCBO.
In a statement from the Ministry of Finance on Saturday, spokeswoman Emily Hogeveen said: “LCBO is governed by a board of arms and made this decision independent of the government or the government. The government continues to encourage everyone to support small and local businesses during this difficult time. ”
LCBO, which has seen an increase in sales during the pandemic, did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement on LCBO’s website announcing the partnership, George Soleas, President and CEO of LCBO, said: “We expect it to be a great success during the holidays and we hope to expand the service further in the province in the new year. ”
A spokeswoman for SkipTheDishes, Melanie Fatouros-Richardson, said in a statement from the company that its couriers already supply alcohol from both restaurants and suppliers in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.
“In these provinces, we have not seen any evidence that alcohol sales to our restaurant partners have been negatively impacted when alcohol salesmen have launched in the network,” said Fatouros-Richardson. “Adding a bottle of wine to your order or a beer with your wings has historically been a different occasion than when you ordered directly from an alcohol seller. The pandemic has led to higher sales of alcohol supplies for restaurants across the country, and they continue to grow as we enter the bustling holiday season. ”
But Tomas Morana, owner of Bar Volo, a bottle shop and brewery near Yonge Street and Wellesley Street that offers alcohol and Italian food outlets, said the partnership puts its business at a competitive disadvantage.
“We are only forced to be able to sell our food and wine and beer stocks via delivery apps and pick up and now you have LCBO coming there and underperforming us because their prices will be much lower than ours,” he said. “All we can do is offer products you will not find on LCBO.”
Toronto’s indoor restaurants and patios are closed in an effort to curb fluctuating COVID cases.
The beer store began a 10-week pilot project for home delivery with SkipTheDishes on November 30. But in an email on Saturday, Beer Store President Ted Moroz said his company has decided to pause the program “given the current public health restrictions at our restaurant and bar partner” which “continues to face unprecedented challenges during the pandemic.”
With files from Cheyenne Bholla