Students at York began the staggered return to in-person classes on January 31. The last group is set to return this coming Monday, February 14. Multiple widespread university closures over the past two years have meant that businesses at York have seen sharp decreases in sales.
Excalibur sat down with two businesses located at York to ask them about their thoughts on the return to in-person learning and what this return will mean for their establishments.
Elias Khoury is the owner of z-teca and Timbers Lodge Social Grill, two restaurants located in York Lanes. Khoury was also the owner of the former Shopsy’s Sports Grill since its inception. Shopsy’s was a popular hangout spot for students on campus for several years until it closed down in 2020 and was converted afterwards into his own new franchise, Timbers Lodge, in late 2020.
When asked whether Khoury was forced to lay off any staff due to the closures, he admits it was “one of the hardest decisions” he has ever had to make as many of the employees he laid off were students and families who “needed the jobs.”
Khoury also explains that it has been difficult to fill now vacant positions as many people who previously worked in the restaurant industry have left it for good.
Gino Amodio is the original owner of The Great Canadian Bagel’s York Lanes franchise and has owned the restaurant for over 25 years. Amodio attended York Schulich School of Business and opened the restaurant when he was 23 years old after having worked at the Great Canadian Bagel head office for some time.
Amodio was also forced to lay off most of his workers during the university closures. At certain points, he admits the only employees working were himself and one other employee— a far cry from the 15 to 20 employees he usually keeps on staff.
Amodio also says that with the exception of closing down for six months in March of 2020, The Great Canadian Bagel has remained open throughout the entire pandemic. Amodio explains that despite the business not being a “money-making operation,” his “kinship” with the students that visit his business drove him to keep his business open.
“If I could chip in and help by giving them an option for food, that was my role in trying to make life as normal as possible for the kids that stuck it out and came to school. That’s really the only reason why,” Amodio explains.
While neither Shopsy’s nor Timbers Lodge had provided take out or delivery options in the past, Khoury says the pandemic forced him to do so for the current establishment. Between both Timbers Lodge and z-teca, he admits that he has lost over “$2 million” due to the university’s closures over the past two years.
When asked whether he feels safe opening his dining room once again as the highly transmissible Omicron variant makes its way through the population, Khoury says that all of his staff are vaccinated along with having various protocols in place should a COVID-19 outbreak occur.
“We’ve got back up plans in place. If there is a breakout we have protocols in place such as an automatic shutdown for two weeks. We just want the customer base back just to get life back into everyone,” Khoury says.
All of Amodio’s staff is also vaccinated, explaining in being on campus, he feels safer than he would have if his store was located on busy roads such as the nearby Keele Street and Steeles Avenue.
“I do feel safe. I know it’s highly transmissible, but I think we’ve gotten to the point where on campus and in society, we’ve vaccinated as many people as are going to get vaccinated,” explains Amodio.
As students make a gradual return to in-person learning over the coming days, York’s business owners welcome them back with open arms.