For Etienne Croteau, the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on his restaurant Flavour Trader was like a mass dine and dash.
There was no slow, winding down of business or gradual exodus of customers. Once the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre closed its doors on March 16, his fine dining restaurant that occupied part of the second floor was finished.
“We were doing seven days a week. It was super great. And we stopped the operation like at 100 per cent,” Croteau recalled.
“The government decided to close the museum for health purposes, and we weren’t able to access the kitchen, then we stopped our operation completely,” he said. “It was super hard.”
Revenues plummeted to zero and Croteau had no active business for more than three months.
The difficulties of Covid have pushed business owners in Yellowknife to dust off their alternate plans, and Croteau was no exception.
As Flavour Trader went dormant, Boreal Flavour emerged.
“I hired one person in May to help me finalize a commercial kitchen in Kam Lake. That was our Plan B for a long time. It’s a processing room to process the veggies production that we have in Kam Lake, and we cook a bit there.”
By July, he secured the necessary government health permits to open a kitchen for his new Boreal Flavour project at the Kam Lake site, where he prepares his pre-packaged meals that he sells at the Yellowknife Farmer’s Market.
His home chef services, which he had been running since Flavour Trader opened in November 2018, gave him a source of income during the summer.
“Imagine you have a restaurant in your house and we have a chef and a server,” Croteau said. “For 10 people you could you pick a three- to five-course meal. We pre-make a bit of it in our kitchen, but mostly when we cook at your place you have this ambience, you have the cook and he can talk with you. We give some demonstration about the food, about the spices and things like that. It’s quite popular.”
A minimum of six people are needed for the home chef service, with prices starting at $120 per person.
However, summer business hasn’t come close to recouping his losses since March, and Croteau estimates that the meal sales and home chef services represent only 10 per cent of pre-Covid revenues.
Still, the Quebec-born, spice-obsessed chef has his eyes on better times ahead.
In the coming weeks, he plans to roll out pop-up restaurants where he will bring fresh, hot meals to customers’ cars. He also aims to ramp up sales of pre-packaged meals at two unspecified pick-up locations, one uptown and one downtown.
The larger prize will be in catering, Croteau explained.
It hasn’t been possible to cater events with food because of Covid measures limiting indoor gatherings to a maximum of 25 people.
Even if the NWT isn’t about to enter phase three of the recovery plan next week, Croteau is confident that some loosening of the rules in September will allow for indoor gatherings larger than 25 people.
“Hopefully they will allow like 25 or 35 people in the room. That will definitely change the balance of the catering,” he said.
He estimates that a more regular return to catering, even without Flavour Trader immediately reopening, could bring back 85 per cent of his pre-Covid revenues.
Croteau still wants to reopen the restaurant sometime in the future, though he doesn’t known when it will be possible.
In the meantime, he’ll cook up what he can to get him to the next phase.
“Fingers crossed that the government departments will increase the number (for indoor gatherings) for catering because it’s a huge businesses for many people in town.”