Restaurant closures feared in Victoria as deadline for federal loan repayment looms

Saveur announced on July 27 that it would be closing its doors.

A downtown Victoria fine dining restaurant has closed because of soaring operating costs, and industry experts fear more could be on the horizon.

Award-winning restaurant Saveur announced Thursday it was closing its doors due to what it calls operational challenges faced since 2020. In a statement, the team at Saveur cites labour shortages, the rising cost of food and inflation as the major challenges it faced post-pandemic.

Big Wheel Burger co-owner Calen McNeil says the rapid rise in costs is unprecedented in his more than two decades in the industry.

“Nobody’s getting rich in the restaurant industry,” he says from his Saanich location. “Even the ones that are super successful are struggling to pay their bills.”

Restaurants are just some of the small businesses that received COVID relief in the form of Canada Emergency Business Account loans (CEBA). Repayment to the federal government is due at the end of 2023.

“Businesses might not have the cash flow to do that,” says Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams.

The Victoria Chamber is one of hundreds of chambers across Canada that co-signed a letter to federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland asking for an extension.

“When that many voices representing that many businesses speaks, the government needs to listen,” says Williams.

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association echoes the need to get the message to the federal government.

“It’s summer time in Ottawa, so we’re hoping the B.C. premier and B.C. Minister [Brenda] Bailey continue to put the pressure on Ottawa,” Tostenson said.

The CEBA program offered interest-free loans of up to $60,000 to small businesses. If the balance of the loan is repaid by December 31, 2023, up to 33 per cent of the loan is forgiven.

Jordan CunninghamJordan Cunningham

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