Mercury Cafe survives pandemic but not unscathed
A year ago, Regina’s Mercury Cafe & Grill was in danger of closing.
She posted an appeal on Facebook detailing how dire her situation was.
What happened next completely changed the restaurant’s trajectory.
“We saw a significant uptick in business about three days after publication,” says owner Chris Plumb.
“And just after that it was an absolute explosion of business for about three weeks to the point where I had to hire or re-hire old employees and new employees to come in and help us because we were so overwhelmed with people going through the doors came. ”
It was far more than Plumb could have expected. And he said the moment was the turning point in the fortunes of the 1950s-style Cathedral Quarter restaurant, which he says is “basically just a payroll away from closure”.
“It’s been absolutely incredible how people in Regina can come together like this and really come out and really show support — true and genuine support unlike other cities that would probably struggle with a small campaign like this,” he said. “But I’m telling you, if it wasn’t for you, we would have been done a year ago.”
While Mercury is still striking in 2023, it has not come without casualties. Like many other businesses, operating costs are now higher than ever due to inflation.
“Just to buy a head of romaine lettuce, to give you an example, it’s $8,” he said. “(It’s) something that used to be half the size.”
Plumb has also accumulated a lot of debt over the past two years.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t let this place fail no matter what it took to make it happen,” he said.
“I owe nearly $180,000 in debt. (I’m) slightly behind on my GST and PST payments and I’ve done what I had to do to definitely keep this place running.”
Plumb has relied on credit from CEBA and HASCAP, as well as a high-interest loan from Driven Financial Corporation.
He said he wasn’t even halfway to paying them all off.
Before the pandemic, Plumb said he had essentially no debt for the first 12 years of Mercury’s existence.
Despite all the stress and hardship, Plumb said the challenges are part of the process.
“It was always a bit of a mystery to me or an enigma,” he said. “I’m not sure how to put it exactly, but it’s like a game and I enjoy playing it. I like finding my way out of traffic jams. I want to make sure I have all angles covered.”
Plumb praised his staff and regular customer base for helping him keep things going during really tough times.
“This is my baby. This is something I built with my own two hands,” he said. “I’m just proud that I’ve made this place work.”