Grey Bruce has cultivated an amazing, vibrant food scene to offer locals and tourists alike over the years – one with the potential to continue thriving and evolving.
We live in a time where you no longer have to travel to Toronto to have many great menu options at hand
However, at the rate things are going, some of this gastronomic luxury might not remain quite as abundant.
That is, of course, if municipal governments across the Grey-Bruce region are ready to do their part to help.
Today, amateurs of delicious cuisine aren’t always aware that the fate of some of their favorite eateries is predicated on the availability of affordable housing in the region.
We now find ourselves at a very delicate teetering point: most restaurants in the region charge well below what their counterparts in the city would and also offer larger portions for those prices.
Yet, prices are set at what the market will bear, which in turn means there is a limit on how much workers in the industry can be paid to keep prices within reach for the majority of diners.
Affordable Housing & Our Restaurants
The affordable housing problem stretches from the southernmost point of Grey-Bruce, right up to Tobermory: our local populations are growing, as is our tourism (2.5 million visitors came our way in 2018).
With the demand for culinary goods continuing to grow each year, the employment pool is simply not growing along with it.
One of the first problems lies with a lack of accessibility to mobility (fancy way of saying someone doesn’t have a car).
It can be very challenging for restaurant workers to add the monthly cost of a vehicle to their pay grades.
While some rideshares are available on Kijiji, they are inconsistent and there are far more rideshare requests than actual offers.
Affordable housing in Grey Bruce could help remedy part of the problem by making car ownership more accessible to the men and women who grill our steaks and flip our omelettes.
A Look at the Challenges of Restaurant Ownership:
One restaurant owner I know in South Bruce (he requested anonymity) told me of problems that are both familiar to most who invest in owning a restaurant. He also told me of extraordinary circumstances.
The morning I last visited him, he was coming off a (very) stressful 24 hours in which he had to deal with a hood that shorted out on him during dinner service.
The temperature in the kitchen went from hot to hellfire in short time and since most of the equipment is propane powered, he was forced to shut down the kitchen for a day.
That scenario on its own is stressful enough, but imagine having to contend with it after what he had already dealt with over the past week:
Four of his staff members had to cancel shifts for a variety of health problems (very common).
In order to keep the ship running, the restaurant owner in question and one of his senior staff members had to run the place for several days from opening time until close because back-ups weren’t available.
And yet, this is what the average restaurant owner in the Grey-Bruce area have to endure – but they shouldn’t really have to.
Not when we have the resources at hand.
Is The Stress of Restaurant Ownership Worth It?
Restaurants in the region do stand to offer their owners a great deal of reward, especially in the tourist season, that much is a given.
However, those rewards also come with a great deal of risk, stress and sacrifice.
While municipal governments talk a good game about increasing economic development on one hand, they don’t shy away from hamstringing entrepreneurs with red tape or providing them with the tools necessary (affordable housing) to keep economic growth running along smoothly.
When you take a closer look at communities such as Wiarton, Lion’s Head and especially Tobermory, the need for action is greater.
All regions have both room for additional growth in the business sector, yet each municipality is restricted to the amount of affordable housing available to the talent it seeks.
Some employers can offer visiting staff accommodations for a stipend, but there is a hidden piece of math that makes these accommodations detrimental to the bottom line.
Say a cook is coming up for the summer from Toronto, where he pays $1000 a month in rent.
Logically, he’ll continue to pay that rent throughout the summer because he doesn’t want to give up his home for a temporary job.
Even a $15/day for a motel room from his employer, his monthly costs have gone up to $1450 overall…on a cook’s wages.
Going back to the car conundrum, if our visiting cook has no vehicle, he is largely confined to his immediate surroundings for an entire summer.
We only have to look at how the contrasts of what is going on in Wiarton and Owen Sound to see where views on the issue diverge.
There has been talk of turning the old grocery store in Wiarton into affordable housing units, which would offer some much-needed relief.
Yet, real estate investors in Owen Sound are going to aggravate the problem further if they succeed with a plan to build a gas station, six restaurants and a hotel on the city’s east side.
The irony of the hotel is that if you read Heritage Grove Centre Inc’s proposal, they say the hotel would mainly target contractors and others visiting the area for a stay of three days or more.
Staying in any hotel for an extended period of time is not financially feasible for construction laborers – especially if they have to maintain rents or mortgages back home.
The time to talk about not only building affordable housing, but also easing present bylaws to allow for alternative housing, such as the building of tiny houses needs to start now.