How two local cafés are weathering COVID-19

This wasn’t how Joan Hayes pictured her retirement year. 

But like many on Bowen, when the pandemic hit, the Snug and Artisan Eats owner and her teams rolled up their sleeves, pivoted on a dime and found ways to keep their businesses alive and Bowen caffeinated. 

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“We’re doing okay because we have a bit of a unified front,” said Hayes. “I’ve got the kids around me and we all sort of faced this together.” 

But it hasn’t been easy. “We went through moments, each of us as a family,” said Hayes. (Her son William is a business partner and her daughter and son-in-law own a separate restaurant in the cove.) “One day I was down in the dumps and then William was up. The next day he was down and then I was able to help him up a bit.”

“Right from the word go, I knew that it was going to be a struggle to manage it all,” said Hayes. The biggest decision came at the beginning of it all––whether or not to close. 

“Once we made the decision to close Artisan, that was big relief,” said Hayes. “But then, what do we do with the Snug because the Snug is almost an essential service really.”

There was a point, at the peak of the pandemic shutdown, where there was only one place on Bowen to buy a cup of coffee. The Snug kept chugging along, with business partner Ai Kanezaki at the helm, not offering hot food or cooking and only serving one at a time. 

But the pandemic has given Hayes time to reassess the cove business, which she and her late husband bought 15 years ago. 

“It was supposed to be this gem. Piers was retiring and we were going to buy this little Snug and do this thing,” said Hayes. “And it just morphed into this monster business.”

“What COVID has taught me and I kind of knew this intellectually…is that if you pair it right down and just offer the essentials, which people really want coffee and a sandwich and a muffin to go, and you staff right low, you actually potentially make more profit,” she said. 

“It’s definitely made us relook at how we go forward opening and operating the Snug,” said Hayes. “We’ve started back up and we’ve pared down our menu.”

While Artisan Eats’ doors remained locked this spring, it wasn’t quiet at the business Hayes bought just over a year ago. The bottom floor of the building is a bakery where Michael Lecourt was hard at work supplying the island with bread. 

Hayes said that they sold a ton of bread in April but less than usual in May. “When things settled a bit, the sales dropped,” she said. 

While Hayes laid off most of her staff at both eateries, she still had three families to support––those of her managers and business partners––so also had to deal with the government business relief programs. Hayes would be up at midnight trying to sneak on before the system crashed from high demand yet again. 

To cover some costs, the Hayes started large pick-up meals at Artisan Eats including Easter and Mother’s Day dinners. For one dinner they expected 30-40 orders and received more than 100. “It was an incredible thing to put together,” said Hayes. In May they did socially distanced market days in the Artisan space. 

Now Artisan Eats has reopened and the Snug is once again serving hot food and both have strict COVID policies in place––the fear of the coronavirus spreading among staff or to the island sits heavily with Hayes.

But the community is showing up to support the cafés. “It’s really heartwarming to see how much support there really is in the community,” said Hayes. “We knew that, but when you’re in the cauldron, you don’t always see it because you just feel so isolated and afraid.”

On the first day Artisan was open someone came in and gave a $35 tip for a muffin and a coffee. “He said ‘I just wanted to give this to the girls because I’m so glad you’re open and we’ve missed you,’” said Hayes. 

And although Hayes is no longer talking to her accountant twice a week, there are still reinventions to come as the businesses manage COVID restrictions and effects. 

At Artisan, they’ll be producing frozen or fresh pick-up meals to try to make up for the government-mandated reduced seating.

In the meantime, Hayes is trying to live in the day. “It’s a waste of time worrying about tomorrow because there’s nothing we can do until it comes.” 

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