St. Stephen – 2020 has been a bittersweet year for the owners of Carman’s Diner. With the passing of Owner Velma Hossack on March 15, her children Susie, Neil, and Sherri tried to keep the restaurant going as a way to keep their minds off their loss.
Of course, all of this took place at the same time that the province started shutting things down due to COVID-19, and they had no staff available to help them. Because they made so many efforts to serve their loyal customers, Carman’s has been nominated for one of three The Saint Croix Courier Shine On awards, which was created to celebrate businesses that have gone above and beyond during COVID-19.
“During COVID, our mother passed away on March 15, and it was just ramping up at that time,” said Susie Hossack. “A couple of days later, we did a shut down, and my brother, sister, and I were the only ones on staff. We went into it thinking it would be helpful, that it would be something to put our minds on other things.”
Customers were still going to the restaurant during the pandemic, and they were great about following protocols, which include using a hand sanitizer before entering the building. The sanitization station is located in the main foyer as you walk into the restaurant. In the beginning of the crisis, they were offering take-out only, with no dine-in service due to provincial regulations.
“Some people would call in and we would run it out if they didn’t feel comfortable coming in. When they did come in, customers were very good about it. You’d see people standing and waiting for their orders, and they’d be more than six-foot distancing.”
Hossack said that she and her siblings tried their best to keep the restaurant open and still follow provincial guidelines. But, with no additional staff on hand, they found it to be too overwhelming for the three of them. She said that there were days when there were barely any customers, and on other days there were too many for three people to handle. So, they finally decided to shut down for a couple of months and do some much-needed kitchen renovations.
“So, we had an entire kitchen renovation,” said Hossack. “We had our fire suppression, and ventilation is all updated and up to speed. The floors, walls, ceilings. We got new fryers. We got lots of new shelving. It’s stainless steel all through the kitchen. It was all concentrated in the kitchen. We’ve had the front part done a few times. This is the first kitchen that I’m aware that we’ve ever done in 65 plus years. If something went wrong, we would just fix those things. Now, we have a nice new kitchen.”
Hossack said the renovations took longer than they had expected, about two months. They hired out all of the work to local contractors as much as possible, with the exception of the ventilation system upgrade.
“We had to get a ventilation system expert from Fredericton, and we had a local carpenter. We did everything local if that company was available in town to do it, but there are no ventilators in St. Stephen.”
There were also a couple of things done to the outside area of Carman’s. Hossack said they installed a new sign, as well as new picnic tables for those who would prefer to eat outdoors, whether it be due to COVID-19 worries or just because they want to enjoy the lovely weather we’ve been having lately.
“We got a nice, new sign because our other one was old and it had rust. Every time I looked at it, I thought it just didn’t reflect well upon the business. It’s the hanging sign. It’s hanging now. We got new seating out there. We’ve got six new picnic tables for people who aren’t comfortable coming in.”
Carman’s Diner officially opened back up to the public as of last week, and their customers couldn’t be happier. Hossack they are following all of the protocols that have been laid out by the Province of New Brunswick to the letter. This includes being at 50 per cent capacity so customers can maintain that six-foot social distancing. Every other booth is open, and they have opened up the back room in order to be able to serve as many customers as possible.
Hossack said she is thrilled that Carman’s was nominated for a Shine On award. She said she is surprised, and appreciates their customers think so much of them and their business.
“I think that was really nice,” said Hossack. “We really appreciate it. I’m surprised, actually. I noticed other people had been nominated, and was surprised that we were. We did shut down, so we did our renovations so it doesn’t count as much. The part about Carman’s is it’s all about the relations with our customers.”