After the mandated shut down, Alex Kastner, General Manager of the Cambridge Mill says they closed for a few weeks to regroup. Realizing how substantial the effects of the pandemic would be on the hospitality industry, they decided, rather than doing takeout they would start a meal program for employees.
“A small team, including myself, cooks and packages meals for our staff to pick up. Completely contactless, the meals are placed in trunks or in the backseat,” said Kastner.
Cambridge Mill is part of a larger organization, called Pearle Hospitality - which owns and operates 10 locations across Ontario. They employ over 1000 full-time staff; all are receiving free meals under this program.
Kastner, who has been GM at Cambridge Mill for over three years said, “it is one of the only companies I have worked for that in spite of its impressive growth and development has not lost its commitment to the principles of a family-run business.”
Cambridge Mill is known for its community giving initiatives, including the Cambridge Memorial Hospital's ‘Best Bites’ event.
“We are the title sponsor for the Cambridge Mill Race, sponsor for KidsAbility Rotary Superhero Run, primary donor to the Cambridge Food Bank, and close partner with Cambridge Shelter Corporation,” said Kastner. In 2018, Cambridge Mill sponsored Real Jobs for Real People providing valuable work experience to individuals who were being housed at Bridges shelter.
In December, they collect donations of socks, hats and gloves from diners - in exchange for complimentary sparkling wine. The donations are given to attendees of their annual Christmas Eve dinner, serving the less fortunate in our community.
To Kastner, these are the perks of a job he genuinely loves. “We enjoy celebrating with our staff, whether it’s our summer staff party at our organic farm, or the Halloween party where the whole building is converted into a haunted house.“ After the lay-offs, he says, they set up social media groups and support mechanisms to attempt to assist employees and help them share how they were adjusting to being quarantined at home.
With no time to waste, they began working on policy initiatives and lobbying for restaurantsmatter.ca - partnering with savehospitality.ca.
In the coming weeks, Cambridge Mill will begin offering takeout options to the public. “Initially, our concern was ensuring that our staff knew that we were there to support them, in the best way we know how,” said Kastner. “We made the decision that any attempt to service the community at large must first start with taking care of our own family first. We also began the employee relief fund.” 25% of all gift card sales help staff who are in need during this time.
“If nothing else is accomplished, this program reminds our staff that just because we cannot employ them does not mean we are not invested in their security and happiness - plus it allows us to see their faces every week.”
Kastner says they kept the meal program quiet, until now, to protect its intent. “The decision to discuss this now is to hopefully act as proof of how important the simple act of feeding people is to maintaining that level of connection and compassion.”
Cambridge Mill will continue to run this program as long as operations are halted – longer, depending on what the climate looks like when restrictions are lifted.
“The opportunity to hand out these meals has reaffirmed to me why I love this bloody industry so much,” Kastner beams. “Even with takeout options, 20-30% of restaurants will not survive this crisis - which means hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of whom are young, will be out of work.” Kastner encourages the community to follow savehospitality.ca and onetable.ca to help create a future for the local hospitality sector.
Their Mother's Day Celebration Brunch Box is now available for online order - including an option to add a DIY mimosa kit. 100 of these boxes will be given away to Moms serving as frontline workers.