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First-time eatery owners say future looks bright

Duo couldn't pass up opportunity to buy The Coffee Cottage restaurant
Coffee Cottage
Dale Dunham, left, and Shaun Steen are all smiles after stepping up to buy Innisfail's popular eatery, The Coffee Cottage and Catering, shortly after it closed due to COVID-19. (Photo supplied)

INNISFAIL — Dale Dunham and Shaun Steen had no reservations about buying Innisfail's Coffee Cottage restaurant — even during a pandemic.

"Call us genius or crazy, but we couldn't pass up this opportunity," said Dunham, pointing out the Coffee Cottage "is an institution" in the town of 8,968 residents.

When the original owners of the 11-year-old eatery and catering business at 5112 49 Avenue closed the doors and put it up for sale in early spring, the two men jumped at the opportunity.

"We noticed it was for sale and moved quickly," said Steen, adding, "We decided over a 24-hour period."

While both men have previous experience working in the restaurant business, this is their first time owning an eatery.

"We bought the (previous owners') recipes and we're keeping alot of what they had and adding our own personal touch," said Dunham.

The Coffee Cottage started takeout service on May 18 and then reopened to 50 per cent capacity — to abide by AHS COVID-19 regulations — on May 26.

The couple, who live three blocks away, said business has been good even as customers adjust to the COVID-19 regulations.

"We have had really good feedback. People are so pleased to see it reopen," said Dunham adding, "people are saying 'it's really nice to see you guys pick this place up.'"

The Coffee Cottage, currently open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. 6 p.m., serves a wide variety of items from homemade soup to carrot cake. Dunham and Steen are the only full-time staffers and have one employee working part-time.

The new owners say the future looks bright.

"We're looking at opening Saturdays and hiring additional staff," said Dunham.

"We are optimistic going forward. We love what we do," said Steen, adding, "This is such an interesting journey working together on something like this."

A couple of blocks away, the Persian House Restaurant, 5012 50 St., also closed its doors due to COVID-19.

Mo Bayt, owner of the family-run eatery, said they reopened in mid-May when provincial regulations were relaxed and "business has been good."

"It's back to normal. People are very happy to see us back open" said Bayt, adding, "It's as good as it was before."

Capacity has been reduced to 38 from 76 since the reopening and staff is following all AHS protocols including social distancing and mask-wearing. She said three people — herself, her husband and sister — work at the Persian House.

Hours have been reduced slightly as the eatery is now open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Bayt said even though the restaurant was closed due to COVID-19, she has no plans to apply for federal assistance.

The owner/operator of the Boots and Barrels Restaurant and Bar, 4924 47 Ave., said the establishment reopened May 18 and also said "business has been pretty good."

Agostin Nika, who has owned the eatery since 2019, said he was forced to lay off 14 staff when he closed in March but has been able to hire back 12 of his employees.

"Staff are happy to be back and the customers are happy that we are open again," said Nika, adding he is operating the 129-seat bar and 60-seat patio at less than 50 per cent capacity.

"People are keeping their distance. They are showing respect," said Nika, adding that people "are just happy to be out again."

He said he did apply for federal assistance during the shutdown.

Stuart Fullarton, manager of economic development and communications for the town of Innisfail, said the service industry businesses in Innisfail have been negatively affected by COVID-19 but "there have been some positive and encouraging signs."

"They have done a fantastic job of adjusting their service and increasing their online presence," he said.

Fullarton said less than half of the businesses in Innisfail indicated they would apply for assistance through a federal support program.

Carla Gabert, executive director of the Innisfail Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will be running several Shop Local programs to encourage local shopping and dining.

Located 119 km north of Calgary, Innisfail had one reported case of COVID-19 and that person has recovered.

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.

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