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Food and beverage industry on the mend as tourists return Iqaluit

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series on the tourism sector in Nunavut post-pandemic.
The exterior of Iqaluit’s Nunavut Brewing Company in the winter. Jason Oldham, the brewery’s general manager, said the business would likely not have survived the pandemic without government support. Photo courtesy of Nunavut Brewing Company

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series on the tourism sector in Nunavut post-pandemic.

On the morning of Thursday, August 10, Nunavut Brewing Company general manager Jason Oldham welcomed a group of customers who had just disembarked a cruise ship that was docked in Iqaluit.

Such a thing would have been unthinkable during the pandemic, when tourists vanished from the city and wider Nunavut completely.

“It seems like a lot of tourists are stopping by, or people from out of town at least,” Oldham said. “Business is bouncing back. We’re recovering, and we’re looking forward to hopefully a much better few years coming up with no shut-downs.”

Oldham joined Nunavut Brewing Company, nicknamed NuBrew, in September 2020, right around the time that the first lockdown of the pandemic ended.

The end of that initial lockdown saw a small amount of local customers return to the NuBrew taproom, which Oldham said is responsible for at least 50 per cent of the company’s business.

Still, the business was hindered by strict restrictions on capacity, and continued to struggle with similar rules for the remainder of the crisis.

“It was good to get people back in, but there were no tourists, and on top of that, we were limited to capacity with closures throughout,” he said. “We were closed for two or three months for three years in a row with no taproom revenue coming in.”

“It was hard.”

NuBrew made it through the pandemic, and did so without having to make significant layoffs.

Oldham credits the financial support programs that were available through the territorial and federal governments for the business’ survival.

“We were able to take advantage of some of the relief funding that was available,” he said. “We didn’t want to lay people off, so we used that money to help cover wages for people we had on full time, and help some of the operating costs that we had.”

“It would have been nice to see more [funding], but it was helpful, the funding that we did get. If we didn’t have that funding source, the brewery probably would have been nonexistent at this point.”

NuBrew was not the only business in Iqaluit’s food and beverage sector to suffer during the pandemic.

The Chartroom Lounge, the city’s only sports bar, also saw a big drop-off in business as tourists and visitors from other Nunavut communities disappeared.

“I’d say about a quarter of our business is from out of town—if not more,” he said Josh Dickson, the bar’s general manager . “A lot of people from small communities love coming to The Chartroom.

“It was very difficult,” he added. “We were shut down for months on end. I lost a lot of good staff due them not being able to work.

“Once we did open, only being able to open to 25 per cent capacity, and all the Covid restrictions and stuff made it really tough.”

‘Sit and wait and pray’

The Chatroom did not receive much in the way of relief funding from the Government of Nunavut or Canada, according to Dickson.

“It was kind of just sit and wait and pray that we were able to re-open,” he said. “I definitely would have liked to see something [in terms of funding].”

Things got so bleak, he said, that the owners briefly debated closing the bar down—just a few years after its 2019 opening.

“It was considered, but at the same time, a little money is better than no money,” he said. “We were able to least keep our head above water when we were open, and it gave the patrons something to look forward to. When the restrictions did lift, they did have that reassurance that we would be open.

“It was very crippling,” he added. “Trying to establish your brand and establish your name in town, and then to have this happen, it definitely hindered what we were trying to do.”

The good news for Oldham and The Chartroom is that business is bouncing back—even if it’s yet to return to previous levels.

“It’s definitely coming back,” he said. “It’s definitely slower than it was pre-pandemic.”

“We’re drawing larger crowds. That’s really nice to see.”

With the pandemic behind us, and visitors returning, Iqaluit’s food and beverage industry has recovered enough that new businesses have begun to open.

One such business is Perrault Food Truck, a popular, rolling restaurant that serves burgers, hotdogs, and a popular buffalo chicken poutine, among other things.

Mathieu Perrault, one of the three owners of the truck, which opened last August and operates in the summer months, gave a positive assessment of the city’s food and beverage industry.

“People are getting to know us and the food more and more, especially on the sunny days,” he said.

Perrault could not provide firm numbers as to how much of his business comes from out of town, but said he would love to see the municipal and territorial governments do as much as they can to attract tourists to the city.

More visitors, after all, means more potential business.

“Of course,” he said when asked if he’d like to see more tourists in his queue. “We’re set up for a line-up all day long. If the line-up doesn’t stop, we’re happy with that.”

About the Author: Tom Taylor

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