INNISFAIL – For the first extended period of time in more than a decade Joe Desjardins no longer has to get up at 3 a.m. for his workday.
It all began about a month ago when he and his wife Jodi decided they would no longer offer any service at their downtown restaurant, The Coffee Cottage, a revered noon hour institution on 49th Avenue for local working people who needed to grab a quick and always satisfying lunch.
The COVID-19 pandemic was just too much. They needed to be safe for themselves and their family.
“The fear of dying is the number one reason why we are actually not there working,” said Joe, whose business earned the Customer Service of the Year Award at the 2017 Community & Business Awards Gala. “People just don’t care. You are seeing lots and lots of stories of ignorant people who just are not following the rules. You just need one person to get your whole family sick.
“A lot of people have died,” he added.
But on April 13 the hardworking couple went even further. With a social media post, they let their friends and many followers know it was the end of the line for their business.
“Joe and I have decided we are going in a new direction and will not reopen the shop,” said the couple in their post. “We wish to thank all our awesome customers and friends over the 11 years we have been doing business in Innisfail.”
The news of their decision may not have surprised the local business community but it did bring home the reality of the immense perils now facing every single small business, no matter what program senior levels of government might throw out for assistance.
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“I am very distressed over seeing a small business close, or any business for that matter,” said Larrie Davis, president of the Innisfail & District Chamber of Commerce, noting the fate of The Coffee Cottage could be seen as symbolic of the dire future ahead for small businesses, not just in Innisfail but for all Canada.
“I think people are just giving up,” added Davis. “If we have no revenue for the next 30 or 60 days and we still have to pay rent etcetera, etcetera, and I know there are government programs in place, but how long do we have to wait and how long it is going to be before our clientele can afford to come back to have lunch, after they get back even?”
Joe and Jodi Desjardins have decided they can no longer wait. They have put up their beloved business up for sale. In the meantime, Joe said he will still cater if asked but since closing the doors last month there have been no requests.
“The last couple of years, even though oil had crashed, we were still seeing pretty good increases. We were selling out every single day. Our catering was still strong,” said Joe, adding the family business “dropped to nothing” since the beginning of the pandemic. “We don’t have anything. There are no sales at all. There is nothing. Usually if the store is not doing well the catering would do really well. This is the first time all areas of the business are affected.”
And even if the store is not sold and the pandemic miraculously ends soon, he doubts he and his wife will reopen the business. The obstacles ahead are just too daunting. The couple even walked away from the chance of getting a $40,000 government-guaranteed loan from the Canadian Emergency Business Account program.
“You can burn through that in less than four months. My running expenses are almost $10,000 a month,” said Joe. “What are you going to do after the four months? You are going to owe the money and still close anyways.”
As for the future? Joe said both he and Jodi are looking for new jobs. The couple is looking at Medicine Hat, as it might be a good place for their five children to find the right jobs. Wherever they land they will miss Innisfail.
“I loved the business. I loved the customers. I loved catering,” said Joe. “Innisfail was good for my family. Innisfail is a safe place.”