Business is down, days are long and the future is uncertain. So when customers ask renowned chocolatier Thomas Haas how he’s doing, his reply is guarded.
“I’m OK. I’m just OK,” he emphasizes. “If you are over-the-top good, then I think you have a problem.”
One month ago Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie had 40 employees crafting truffles, chocolates, croissants, macarons and jellies at the shop’s Harbourside Drive and Kitsilano locations. But when the virus spread and social distancing became a national imperative, Haas held a staff meeting and told his workers he’d support any decision they made.
“The world seemed to come to a stop,” he says of the spate of closings that followed the pandemic.
At last count, 31 employees are staying home.
The remaining workers, some of whom were doubtful they could support their family on Employment Insurance, were adamant about staying.
“We committed ourselves that we will not shut down until we have to shut down,” Haas says.
The shop now runs with two employees in the kitchen and two up front, Haas said.
“You can’t practise more social distancing than that,” he said.
And while business is down, the remaining customers are appreciative, he says. Recently, a customer came into the shop and tipped the staff with a $500 cheque.
“It brought tears to everybody behind the counter,” Haas said.
Haas disagrees with shop owners who closed their doors. While the first priority is health, there are other concerns, he argues.
“You have an obligation to your employees because just locking the door and letting them be unemployed, I think, is irresponsible too,” he says. “And then you have a responsibility to your government of not putting more burden on them if you don’t have to.”
The shop has switched to takeout-only, laid down green tape to keep customers apart, and limited walk-ins. But at this point, most people are adept at social distancing, Haas says, adding they no longer need to prod shoppers to leave after making their purchase.
The shop is also allowing customers to pay in advance and wait in their car off Harbourside Drive while an employee delivers the chocolates.
The shop is stocked for Easter with chocolate bunnies and a few other items with a shelf life Haas says, explaining they had just completed holiday preparation when the coronavirus hit.
“Easter, it’s normally like a one-week frenzy,” he says.
Overall, business has dropped about 65 per cent. He said he expects Easter sales to drop 50 per cent compared to previous years.
For years, Haas says he’s put savings aside in case of an earthquake or natural disaster, “never thinking that it will ever happen in my lifetime. And here it is,” he adds.
“We can weather the storm as a business,” he says. “I feel more stress for the people who live from day to day or have no savings.”
To show his gratitude to the community, Haas recently delivered breakfast pastries to Lions Gate Hospital and baked 14 boxes of croissants for his Edgemont neighbours.
He’s been working 16-hours day lately, he reports.
“My wife says I look like shit because I’m tired,” he says with a laugh. “Honestly, I don’t know when it ever will go back to normal.”
But for now, he maintains, being just OK is normal.
“It’s OK to be just OK.”