Earth Club Factory Bistro new protocols and renos
Denman Island Earth Club Factory Bistro & Guesthouse owner Sheldon Rempel discusses how they adapted during the pandemic and have reopened with new safety protocols and some new ideas.
After almost four months of closure, Denman Island’s Earth Club Factory Bistro & Guesthouse is back in business since the resilient owners Sheldon Rempel and Donna Wooley navigated a mountain of changes and details, while still providing some services through the pandemic’s first few months.
“We closed the restaurant about 2 days before the provincial government ordered it,” says owner Sheldon Rempel. “It was the right thing to do.”
Sheldon immediately dove into overdue renovations, refinishing and hand-painting the bistro floor, installing some new hardwood flooring and a new range fan over the stove.
Coffee Cart brings service outdoors
Normally, he would have been gearing up for the summer music festival season, bringing the Earth Club Factory (ECF) coffee cart to festivals across BC.
“We suffered a big loss with no festivals this year (about 12 per season). That’s the cushion we usually use to pay the big bills. That coffee cart has saved my bacon many times!”
The cart helped save them again this Spring. Within 4-6 weeks of closing the bistro, they set up the cart outside to offer coffee and snacks, implementing new protocols and providing more outdoor seating.
With the bistro now open, the coffee cart is idle, so Sheldon says you might find it at the Farmer’s Market occasionally.
Another source of income, from April through June, they actually had a dramatic increase in bulk food sales (both organic and non-organic), as Islanders appreciated the opportunity to buy these supplies locally. They are still determining whether the bulk store will have specific hours or whether it will be by appointment. Ordering will be easier in the future as they revamp the EarthClubFactory.com website to include a bulk buying product database, as well as Bistro menus, hostel information, and live band music videos.
Live music outdoors
Sheldon’s passion is music. He plays guitar, hosts live music shows, and attends music festivals around BC. This summer will be spent at home on Denman Island, but he’s not giving up on the music scene.
“I’m looking at our place as an ideal outdoor venue for up to 50 people, where they can spread out and keep social distancing. Stay tuned.”
Another way they adapted and supported the community was by providing take-out meals like cabbage rolls, meat pies and spanakopita. This new niche has been so successful that they will continue to offer homemade take-out meals.
The Guesthouse accommodations are different these days too. For the past few months, they had some long-term renters but were not accepting short-term visitors.
“The shared dorm rooms are still not available – it’s impossible for social distancing,” he said. “We can offer private rooms only. The glamping-type options outside the building are super-popular right now.”
Now, with the main restaurant area opened as of July 2, they encourage patrons to follow the new protocols.
Sheldon says they worked with WorkSafeBC to develop their re-opening plan and get feedback and approval.
“We looked at the tools to keep our staff and our customers safe, and then we put them everywhere.”
New protocols include:
- Signs at the door to direct patrons; the saloon-style (push with your foot) front door is enter only Exit through the back door or the side garage panel that opens to the yard.
- Baskets with sanitizer, napkins and instructions on every table.
- Tables spaced 6-10 metres apart – and you’ll know which tables have been cleaned by the tipped chairs.
- More outdoor seating.
- Order at the counter and pick-up (no table service).
- Less dishes used, which means less water wasted and a happier staff!
- Self-clearing your table and depositing in the bins of water and bleach at the recycling stand (so that nothing touched by a customer will enter the kitchen!)
“The reality is that all we can do is offer the tools, and people have to do what they can to keep themselves safe. For some, that might mean they stay home and order take-out.”
Community support is everything
Sheldon says the community support has been incredible, as it has for the past 21 years.
“I don’t know where to start. Right from the get-go, people made it clear that we were an important part of the community and wanted to help. They were willing to change buying patterns – I’ve actually converted quite a few to my fresh roasted and ground coffee!”
One important project he also worked on was the new pool room, a separate building behind the bistro.
He calls it “Ben’s Room”, a tribute to he and Donna’s 21-year-old son who passed away this June of brain cancer. Ben was an avid pool player and contributed to its design. Using mostly reclaimed materials, each wall unique, the room is filled with skylights, copper and coloured glass. One door has a mosaic panel of coloured glass with sections created by family members and close friends. One small panel was completed by Ben.
“The support for my family has been even more touching. A Go Fund Me campaign that doubled the goal. The gifts of food, people reaching out to connect and make sure we are ok. There has been so much kindness that I can’t even articulate it all. Just an outpouring of love.”
The love between the community and these two resilient entrepreneurs is apparent. Continuing support now that they’ve adapted to reopen is crucial.
The Earth Club Factory Bistro is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. providing fresh roasted and ground coffee, organic teas, a variety of homemade foods like creative soups, salads and sandwiches on house-baked bread, plus daily fresh baking. Sushi is available on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the famous Eggs Benny on Sundays! For now, the pool table is for hostel guests only, but they will look at renting the room by the hour in the future.
Words & Photos by Trish Weatherall
Published in The Islands Grapevine, July 9, 2020
For more about Denman Island, BC, go to VisitDenmanIsland.ca