BANFF – Less than a week after launching an at-cost meal program in Banff, Chef Scott Hergott is ready to hit the ground running for this week’s menu.
Introducing the Easy Eats last Friday (April 24), an initiative through Pursuit that offers takeout meals at cost for Bow Valley residents, the chef said they sold about 1,300 meals and are gearing up to whip up another 1,500-1,800 for this Friday (May 1).
“It went, honestly, better than I expected,” Hergott said with a laugh.
“The lines flew through very quickly – we had a bit of a hiccup and long story short, we had a [point of sale] system down so we only had one operating, but we are absolutely prepared with two POS systems and ready for round two.”
The program initially started as a way to help colleges after the global COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta. The government placed restrictions on businesses, including ordering non-essential services to close and reducing public gatherings to a maximum of 15 in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus and to not overwhelm hospitals and health services.
The restrictions have hit the hospitality and tourism industry hard, with local officials like MLA Miranda Rosin estimating unemployment numbers in Banff at more than 80 per cent.
“Our tourism economy has been disproportionately hard hit and unemployment in Banff is hovering around 85 per cent … [but] our valley is full of compassionate and resilient business owners and we will weather this storm together,” Rosin said in a statement.
Pursuit was also affected as it was forced to suspend operations and temporarily lay off more than 80 per cent of its staff.
During the layoffs, Hergott brainstormed the at-cost meal program to feed his colleagues three meals a day if they were in self-isolation. But after seeing the success of the program, the chef decided to open it up to residents who were also in need of cheap and nutritious meals.
“It was received so well by our community,” Hergott said.
“I got personal thanks on Facebook and, the whole point of this thing is 100 per cent for community support, and it made us feel like we were supporting our community – so we are glad to hear what we hoped to achieve, we have been able to do.”
In other good news, Pursuit was also able to hire back 357 employees, including 222 positions in the Bow Valley, as a result of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
"Now that we are in the wonderful position of having government programs in place, they are very much helping our staff and allowing us to start to re-animate and start to bring some people back," Banff Jasper Collection president Dave McKenna told the Outlook last week.
"We are thrilled because we see this as a new beginning. We haven't really turned the corner yet, but we have stopped shutting down and maybe started the process to [reopen].”
Pursuit operates attractions, hotels and eating establishments in Alberta and B.C. like the Banff Gondola, Mount Royal Hotel on Banff Avenue, Lake Minnewanka boat tours, Maligne Lake Cruise and the Columbia Icefield Adventure.
Those returning to work include staff in marketing, people and culture, sales and information technology departments, as well as frontline staff who will be in modified positions until operations resume.
“From implementing volunteer-driven community food programs to ensuring our staff have access to development training and subsidized housing when needed, we will continue to do everything we can to move ahead as a team,” Pursuit's president David Barry said in a press release.
Meanwhile, the Easy Eats program will continue to run on Fridays with last week’s menu ranging in price from $1 to $4.50. Options include: pasta with tomato or Alfredo sauce, vegan chilli, beef chilli, Tex Mex chicken wrap, or creamy tomato and pesto soup, with dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free and vegan options.
The large meals range in price from $3 to $6 and can feed one to four people, with each option including roasted vegetables and a choice of side. Main course options include: 24-hour braised beef brisket, teriyaki salmon, chicken gremolada and vegetarian wild rice and grain risotto. There are also two desserts: chocolate chip cookie dough for $1.25, or orange and cream shortcake for $3.
Meals are on a first-come, first-serve basis, but Hergott encourages people to also stop by in the afternoon, as it was busy in the morning but there were still meals available after the morning rush.
“Everyone was socially distanced well, there was music out front and it was a perfect day,” Hergott said. “The biggest thing was everyone showed up at 11 a.m. and that was great, but it was definitely slower in the afternoon and there is no reason to not be there later in the day, we are open until 4 p.m.”
The launch was also able to raise more than $600 in donations, which will be used to create meals to be donated to the Banff Food Rescue.
Limited meals will be available on May 1 between 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Elk + Avenue restaurant on a first-come, first-serve basis. Pursuit is accepting debit and credit payments only.
To check out this week’s menu, go to the Banff Jasper Collection website.
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