Tony Kubek, the owner of Truckin’ BBQ in Cloverdale, opened the restaurant last summer during 
the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant is located at 18690 Fraser Highway. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Tony Kubek, the owner of Truckin’ BBQ in Cloverdale, opened the restaurant last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant is located at 18690 Fraser Highway. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

‘Always ready to adapt’: Surrey small businesses stay resilient in a year of COVID-19

New businesses starting up during the pandemic has been a surprising trend

This is the third in a four-part series looking at how people in the community are rebuilding a year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Part one: ‘Long COVID’: How a Surrey man is dealing with the effects of the virus one year later, March 11, 2021

Part two: ‘We really had to change everything’: Surrey schools continue to adapt to COVID-19 changes, March 18, 2021

When Tony Kubek opened Truckin’ BBQ, a restaurant in Cloverdale, it was several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, but he didn’t expect a year later to be working in similar conditions.

“If you were to tell me back then that a year later we’re going to be standing in – not the same situation – but a very similar situation, I would’ve been like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It seemed short-term in my view,” said Kubek, who also owns a location in Abbotsford.

Truckin’ BBQ started as a food truck business in the summer of 2018.

“I would just do all the big food-truck events, like the fireworks at English Bay, Canada Days, all the ones that travel through the cities,” Kubek noted. “Then this, you know, stuff happened, and we had to completely change our business for the most part because there were no events for a year.”

Kubek said he participated in a bunch of drive-thru food-truck events early on in the pandemic, but then an opportunity “fell into our laps” and he took over the Cloverdale location July 1, 2020.

The location had already been a restaurant, so Kubek said he closed for 30 days for some renovations but parked the food truck outside for business during that time.

Elizabeth Model, CEO of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, said she’s noticed several new businesses open in the downtown core during the pandemic.

“It did surprise me to see so many new businesses opening, and even in our specific area, when I drive around, if something has closed, something is reopening in the area,” she said. “I think people, they’re creative and innovative and they’re looking at new ways of doing things.”

Philip Aguirre, the executive director of the Newton Business Improvement Association, said small businesses are “resilient.”

“We will always find ways to be successful. We’re always ready to adapt to the environment.”

Aguirre said businesses such as Sub Garden, Veneto’s Cakes and Pastries and Greco’s Specialty Foods “have all weathered the storm because the owners worked there themselves.”

Then there’s Espresso Café, he said, which was closed for seven months during the pandemic and has since reopened with fresh renovations and new owners.

“That has been a trend of new ownership, with businesses changing hands over the pandemic.”

But what was it like opening up during a global pandemic?

Kubek said the biggest concern was safety.

“Just because dealing with food, dealing with staff, dealing with customers, there’s a lot of moving parts in the restaurant — in any industry, though, to be honest.”

When Truckin’ BBQ first opened, Kubek said the rules at restaurants were as “black and white as they are now,” adding there are now mask mandates.

The business model also changed in the last year.

“For the most part, everything was on your dine-in and people coming into your restaurant and serving drinks, coming for an experience and the atmosphere. But now most of your business is online, take-out, delivery and all that type of stuff.”

In the downtown area, Model said lunch business has gone down during the pandemic.

“With regard to the restaurants, obviously, they used to have a very busy lunch, but with city hall staffing being at 40 per cent or less, SFU closed, many of the workers in the office towers have been working remotely or not just remotely but part-time through their offices,” she explained.

“However, some are having more business at dinnertime through take-out and pick-up than they used to.”

Meantime, Kubek said he’s “ready to get back to normal, that’s for sure.”

“We’re struggling. Everyone’s struggling through this all together, right? To be completely honest with you, the only reason my doors are still open right now is because of this local community around me who have supported me through this,” he said.

“We have a decent amount of regulars and those who are still doing their best to support us. We really appreciate everyone who is picking up takeout orders, rather than using the delivery apps because those apps are really tough because they charge us a large fee.”

READ MORE: Local restaurants feel squeezed by delivery apps’ commission fees, April 28, 2020

READ MORE: SkipTheDishes adds ‘tone-deaf’ $0.99 fee to B.C. delivery orders, Feb. 4, 2021

READ MORE: Province to seek legal action, review SkipTheDishes’ new ‘B.C. Fee’, Feb. 5, 2021

With a small business, Aguirre said it’s about being resilient, but also a loyal customer base.

“Recovery is still slow,” he noted. “However, the business community is definitely optimistic that consumer confidence is increasing.

“I believe – the Newton BIA believes – that recovery can start improving in the summer.”

Model said there’s a “wave of people wanting to get back to going shopping with friends, going out for meals with friends, so that pent-up demand is all there.”

From what she’s been hearing and seeing, there could be a “huge shift to the other side” of people wanting to be in public spaces.

“I think it brings a great deal of hope and joy that the vaccine’s on the horizon and businesses, although different, will come to a level that is obviously advised by our provincial health officer in tandem with the government.”

“It’s looking like the Roaring Twenties is going to come back.”

READ MORE: B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants, March 4, 2021

In the final part of our series, we talk to an ER physician who worked through the pandemic, and examine where the health-care system is now.

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