The days of bustling streetcars, full patios and packed hot spots seem like a distant memory for most Torontonians as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into month 13.
Meeting friends for brunch and cocktails to blow off steam, or heading to a cafe solo with a book and latte in hand, is a luxury many of us miss and can't wait to get back to — assuming our most-loved local haunts and restaurants survive long enough for us to visit.
Hard hit by provincial lockdowns, small businesses across Toronto have been closing their doors for good, while others have been busy reinventing themselves, testing new business models and doing whatever it takes to reach the other side of the pandemic.
But if there's one thing Toronto does well, it's coming together to support our own, with everyone from individuals to brands rising to the challenge of supporting local restaurants. One such initiative is the Little Lifts campaign, which was launched by TurboTax Canada this year to give a little lift to communities and businesses after an extremely taxing 2020.
TurboTax has also been working with local spots to support new ways to do business during the pandemic — like funding the development and delivery of meal kits. One of the restaurants they've partnered with is Donna's, a Junction Triangle eatery.
A not-so-hidden gem, Donna's popped up in November of 2018 and quickly became known for their all-day snacks and bites.
The lovechild of restaurateurs Ann Kim, Peter Jensen and Jed Smith, the Lansdowne spot offers up a cozy, vintage-inspired aesthetic with comfort foods so tasty you'll feel like you're at grandma's house — if grandma had worked at Momofuku like these three.
Speaking to Narcity about the impact COVID-19 has had on Donna's, Jed shared that they're grateful to still be operating, but the last year has been devastating to small businesses and Donna's is no exception.
Trying to fit the "Donna's experience" into a to-go container is a challenge, Jed told us, as the neighbourhood staple was a favoured meeting place and often full of lighthearted conversations, flurries of hugs between loved ones and cheerful bursts of long lost friends bumping into each other. The large wood table by the kitchen served up a way for strangers to become pals.
"We miss all these moments so deeply it's immeasurable," Jed told Narcity.
It was clear that Donna's was in need of a little lift, which is why TurboTax Canada stepped in to help this beloved Toronto spot reconnect with their community via a cook-along on Facebook Live.
Working together, Donna's and TurboTax Canada developed meal kits of gourmet comfort food. These meal kits were then gifted to 50 essential workers from Toronto to thank them for their effort this past year. With their meal kits, webcams and plenty of smiles, the Donna's crew guided their community through cooking one of their recipes at home.
Staying in business has been an exercise in constant reinvention as changing public health orders demand quick adjustment, sometimes with little notice. Shifting to a takeout model was important and challenging, and though it keeps the doors open, the loss in revenue is significant, said Jed.
As the supposed two-week lockdown turned into months, Donna's felt it wasn't right to be working without the whole team, and so they dug into the restaurant's savings to bring back any staff member who was willing and able to return for full-time hours.
They made the decision to pay staff the same salary as a way to ensure that those who may normally rely on gratuities weren't left in a challenging position. Donna's also implemented paid sick days and vacation to front-of-house positions that had previously been hourly.
"Officially, each employee has five sick days and two weeks vacation. However, if it comes to waiting on COVID-19 test results after staying home with even minor symptoms, we stop keeping track. We don't want anyone to hesitate to call in sick, it's just not worth the risk," Jed shared.
Takeout, however, was not going to be enough. So Donna's began a wholesale program providing sandwiches and other prepared dishes to cafes and establishments in the neighbourhood without their own kitchens. Though the profits are more modest, the team is grateful to be busy and to be building connections in their community.
The pandemic has been an opportunity for growth in other ways, with Donna's expanding their hours and menu offerings. Now open for breakfast and offering online ordering for the first time, they've added in a well-curated wine selection and holiday dinner specials.
"We're so determined to make it through this pandemic that we have tried it all," Jed admitted.
Grateful for customers and community support, Donna's commends the public for their awareness and effort to rally behind small businesses like their little restaurant.
"Everything little thing helps," Jed told Narcity, "and we honestly wouldn't have been able to survive without these supports."
The team at Donna's can't wait to welcome Torontonians into the space at 827 Lansdowne again, and encourages everyone to stay safe and follow public health guidance so they can do that sooner rather than later.
After an extremely taxing year, little lifts like these can make such a difference, not just to a restaurant's ability to stay open, but also to the happiness and wellbeing of the people behind the business. And you don't have to be a business owner to benefit from a little lift.
Worrying about filing your taxes correctly can seem like just one more burden on top of an already demanding year. Which is where TurboTax comes in. Using TurboTax's tax services to confidently and correctly file your returns contributes not just to peace of mind, but will also maximise your return.
Whether you're an employee or self-employed, TurboTax can help find all the tax credits and deductions that apply to your situation and take care of it for you, giving you a little lift when you need it most.
To find out how TurboTax can help your business, check out TurboTax's website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube.
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