As seen on Insauga – Written by Jonah Shinuda
The pandemic has had far-reaching effects on almost every aspect of our lives — including food and business — and Insauga has been reaching out to restaurant owners to see how they’re changing up their operations to adapt to these unprecedented times. This time we reached out to Mohamed Saleh, owner of popular Mississauga restaurant Masrawy Egyptian Kitchen, to hear how the pandemic has affected his business and how he’s shifted his business to handling it:
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your restaurant?
Mohamed: Masrawy Egyptian Kitchen is Mississauga’s first dine-in, Egyptian soul food restaurant. Masrawy Egyptian Kitchen opened its doors in the summer of 2018, has been well received by the Egyptian community, and has developed a great reputation amongst a diverse group of Canadians.
Q: How has your restaurant been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and how have you shifted your business model to adapt?
Mohamed: As with most restaurants, our dine-in option completely shut down over night, and this extreme shift has made it very difficult to sustain our operation. We have had to shift completely to take-out, curbside pickup, and expanded delivery options. Unfortunately, most employees have been temporarily laid off, and we have worked hard to change our operation to meet this new normal. We have also had to make investments in PPE and adapting procedures to ensure the safe handling of food and services. The new operation involves gloves, masks, Plexiglass, separated waiting areas, lots of deliveries, and even more hand sanitizer! Thankfully, our loyal customers have allowed us to continue our operation, albeit very differently than before.
Q: What advice would you give fellow restaurant owners during this time?
Mohamed: My advice to my fellow restaurant owners would be what I tell myself every day: You are not alone. We are all in this together. Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the idea of the losses we are experiencing and questioning how this will ever end, I remind myself that I am in the company of many other businesses who have had no choice, no time to prepare, and no options other than to deal with what is in front of them in the best way they can. Knowing that we are here to support each other is what makes this whole experience possible to handle.
Q: What would you say was the hardest part of adapting to the pandemic?
Mohamed: One of the most intense shifts has been in finding supplies to sustain our operation. Having adequate access to meat, legumes and vegetables has been very difficult, and the mark-up in meat and produce has been ridiculous. At the same time, it’s difficult having to balance this reality with the fact that many of our customers are also experiencing hard times, losing their incomes, and dealing with more financial strain.
Also, shifting our model from dine-in to take out only has been very hard mentally. The Masrawy experience was always primarily about food, but it was also about the service. It was about the energy, the atmosphere, and the bustling, sometimes chaotic vibe. It was about an entire restaurant singing you happy birthday, it was about the servers running from table to table, it was about pulling up an extra chair and sharing food, sampling new things, and meeting family and friends. This energy is missed — meeting new faces, seeing regular customers, and being able to serve our diverse community in the way we did is very hard to put on hold.
Q: How do you think this might change your restaurant/service even once the pandemic is over?
Mohamed: We are cautiously optimistic. We hope that this experience will educate people better on what we can do collectively to protect each other, but we’re also optimistic that things will return to some “new normal” that allows us to continue operating safely. We are taking it one day at a time and doing what we can to get creative, push ourselves towards innovation, and continue serving our community safely. We are going to have to get serious about mitigating risks effectively, we are going to need support to get our operations going again, and we need to consider what will make people most comfortable and what we can do to help support each other. It is important to recognize that we are social beings, we need human interaction, and we’re not meant to be isolated for long periods of time. Eventually we will need to get things going again, and when we do, we will be prepared and excited to take on this new phase safely.
Q: What are some hard lessons you’ve learned from this experience?
Mohamed: We have come to appreciate our community even more than before — remembering the pre-COVID times has brought both joy and sorrow. We are incredibly grateful for the community we serve, and their passion in supporting local has been nothing short of remarkable. We truly believe in the power of community. When we support each other and operate with integrity and honesty, we cannot lose, no matter the outcome. It seems now is the time to get creative. Now is the time to find the energy you need to take your business to the next level, using your creativity to find imaginative new ways to push forward. How do we plan to rebuild for an unknown future? This is the type of innovative thinking these times require. Struggle builds character and it’s time to level up.