A local Mexican restaurant has decided to close its doors for a week to give its staff time off to tend to their mental health.
Rob Stodola, owner of the two Senor Froggy eateries in Kamloops, is giving his staff a mandatory one-week paid vacation as myriad challenges — the COVID-19 pandemic, regional wildfires and smoky skies and the discovery of probable graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School — have taken their toll.
The North Shore and downtown locations will be officially closed from Monday, Sept. 13, to Monday, Sept. 20, with the 40 employees back at work on Tuesday, Sept. 21.
“Putting our people first is our top priority, so before the rush of school fundraiser lunches begins, we will be taking a one-week mental-health break,” an email from the restaurant stated.
As an independent, family-owned business, the decision was an easier one to implement than it would have been for a franchisee.
Stodola told KTW the idea of a week off was discussed earlier this summer, when staff members were reportedly feeling burned out.
Management came together and decided a break was not only needed, but possible.
“We looked at it and said, you know, the only way we get a break is if everything shut down because, as a business owner, you’re on-call 24/7,” Stodola said.
He said it’s not something they would have contemplated in a normal year, but given all the stresses, it was something they felt needed to happen for staff retention, morale and mental health.
Stodola said a number of his employees are Indigenous, noting the Tk’emlups discovery weighed heavily on them. The lingering pandemic has also been stressful on staff in general. Last summer, Stodola said, some staff were being bombarded by customer mistreatment over the enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols. He said that hasn’t been part of the need for a break this week.
“This is not about abusive customers, this is about the cumulative effect of a heat wave, a month-and-a-half of smoke, a global pandemic that just won’t stop, a residential school tragedy that’s just devastating,” Stodola said, noting some employees have also had family members pass away recently from causes unrelated to COVID-19.
Stodola said the week off needed to be paid; otherwise, it wouldn’t have relived any stress for the staff.
Restaurants have been amongst the hardest hit by COVID-19 protocols, but Senor Froggy has been busy amidst the pandemic and has no debt.
While conceding the paid time off will be a major financial hit, Stodola said staff will be better off for it.
“Sometimes when it’s only money that stops you from resetting, money isn’t everything,” he said. “A week out of a whole year is only a week. Yes, we lose the sales and, yes, we lose wages, but we’re not losing all food, we’re not losing everything else and, out of 39 years [in business], that’s a lot of weeks.”
He said staff have been “pretty excited” for the week off.
Kimberlee Bryson, the restaurant’s catering and marketing manager, said the one-week break will make a big difference for her and her fellow employees, noting she has received positive feedback from staff who are relieved.
“Things are not crazy bad, but it’s been a long go for a lot of people,” she said.
Bryson is not sure how she will spend her week off, but is looking forward to just resting, spending time with her kids and working on some projects.
“It’s always amazing to be with an employer who practises what they preach,” she said. “They don’t just say they take care of their staff, they put it into action.”