High costs and a shortage of workers mean the end of the famous Mount Stewart restaurant

A popular restaurant in Mount Stewart, PEI served up its last meal, as its owner said staff shortages and high operating costs had forced him to close.

Laurie’s Country Kitchen, which has been open for nearly five years, closed permanently earlier this week.

We had a good run; we got through COVID,” said owner Wally Steele. “But with the cost of everything now tripling and not being able to get employees, that basically kills you at the end of the day.”

Steele isn’t the only business owner facing these challenges. Industries across Prince Edward Island, in particular Tourism and Hospitality Sectorstruggling to find employees this year.

But in the past six months, Steele said finding enough employees to stay open consistently has become a problem. He had to close the restaurant on short notice, without bringing in any income, on days when he could not find people to work.

With the cost of food, supplies and utilities soaring in the past few months, Steele said a one-day shutdown could no longer be sustained.

The last four employees of Laurie’s Country Kitchen in Mount Stewart will spend the week packing equipment to sell goodbye to their nearly five-year-old home. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

“If you lose one day, you lose anything you will gain for the week. You lose three days, you are left behind,” he said. “This is the issue that everyone gets into: trying to get enough employees to actually open your restaurant every day and open it seven days a week.”

Do I pull the plug and go back to normal life, or do I keep doing it and lose my shirt?– Wally Steele

In the end, Steele said, it got to the point where some items became too expensive to feature on the menu without significantly raising his prices.

“You can just go away and your stress level starts to rise dramatically. You have to look at it as, ‘Hey, do I pull the plug and go back to normal, or do I keep doing that and lose my shirt?'”

“I feel like someone has died”

Laurie Boyle has worked with Steele from the start, decorating the restaurant with the countless pieces of art and trinkets she has collected over the years. She said she baked countless cakes for customers during her time at the restaurant, something she will miss very much.

“I feel like someone really died,” she said. “It’s sad.”

Speaking to CBC News while emptying shelves under the counter as she spent hours chatting with regular visitors, Boyle fondly recalled dressing up on holidays and painting the restaurant’s windows to match the changing seasons.

They are the employees and customers that you will miss the most – a community that compares to a large family.

“It’s going to be tough, especially with the morning crew, our coffee guys,” Boyle said. “It’s all about gossip and gossip.”

“I will really miss her,” says Laurie Boyle. ‘I do not know what to say. It is the end and a new beginning. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Many customers have taken to social media to share their memories of the restaurant and give Boyle and Steele their support.

Delores Williams was one of them. She lives in Montague and goes to Mount Stewart regularly to dine at the restaurant with her family.

“I have to commend them because we were bypassing Montag to go to their restaurant,” Williams said. “We enjoyed the atmosphere there. It was friendly, it was relaxing.”

“I wanted them to know how much they are appreciated and how much impact they have on society.”

Many have left the hospitality sector

Louis-Philippe Gauthier of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says Steele’s story is one he hears often now.

“When you’re faced with cost pressures going around your balance sheet, and the fact that you can’t generate revenue like you used to once you’re open because you don’t have the employees — that’s a fact that’s very difficult for small businesses,” Gauthier said.

One influencing factor, he said, is the number of people who have left certain sectors since the pandemic began, specifically restaurants and hospitality.

These industries have been significantly affected by public health restrictions over the past few years, Gauthier said, which could contribute to the number of people leaving these industries.

“The community welcomed us with open arms and was like family,” says Wally Steele of Laurie’s Country Kitchen. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

He also said that many small businesses in Atlantic Canada have yet to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic, which means the lost revenue hurts bottom lines even more.

“There are still a lot of small businesses that haven’t returned to pre-pandemic revenue and there are debts that have built up there and costs are going up,” Gauthier said.

shared memories

For Steele, the past five years of sharing meals and memories with his employees and clients have been worth all the recent challenges.

While he is sad to let the restaurant go, he said he is proud of what his team has built there.

“The community made me feel like part of the family,” Steele said.