Interview by Russell Doerksen
This week marks one year since Manitoba began its first lockdown to tackle the spread of Covid-19. The lockdowns have impacted all of us in different ways, some well and others poorly. Few have been hit as hard as customer-focused small business owners.
Rose Dondo, a member of MacGregor EMC and the owner and operator of Hampton Café in MacGregor, Manitoba, is one such small business owner. I sat down with Rose to talk about her business as well as how her faith has helped her weather the year.
Russell Doerksen: Rose, tell me about your business.
Rose Dondo: Hampton Cafe is a family-style, eat-in restaurant (at least until restrictions caused us to close our dining room). We also provide catering and have a great bed and breakfast upstairs from the cafe. Since the lockdowns began, we have also branched into making frozen dinners, and other easy pick-up-and-go food items and treats.
Russell: Tell me the story of how Hampton Café came into being. How has running the café gone over the years?
Rose: We began by purchasing the building we are in now, without actually knowing what we were going to do with it! It wasn’t until MacGregor lost their coffee shop due to a fire that we knew what we needed to do to serve the community. So, we talked to the owners of the shop that burned down and they didn’t want to rebuild and were happy that someone else could take up their mantle. That was almost nine years ago now, and after a few months of reno work, we opened in April of 2013.
There have been ups and downs. We have run into a lot of roadblocks over the years, even before the pandemic, each that have taken different forms. However, we have learned that if you think about it enough, pray about it, find out enough info, and make enough friends in the community, there is always a way to overcome.
Russell: How has COVID-19 impacted the café?
Rose: The obvious thing is that it has left our dining room empty and because of that—and the hit to savings and revenue that came with it—unfortunately, and painfully, we have had to lay many of our best staff off. We are not some big company. At any given time there are only a handful of people who work for us, so I am friends with everyone we employ. We are all close so that was a serious blow on a number of levels. Beyond this even, there has been a big psychological toll as well. I am someone who loves to plan things—who loves to think up new things to try and get excited about. During this past year, every time I would do that it seems, there came a moment of remembering, “Oh yeah, can’t do that because of the lockdown.” That doesn’t seem like much, but it weighs on you.
Besides that, in many ways, my job has some elements of being a counsellor in it. Taking orders, pickups and making deliveries I have gotten to talk to probably more people during the lockdowns than most others have. So many of the people I encountered were hurting for so many reasons. It is good to talk to these people, but it stays with me, too.
But COVID has also brought about some good as well. It has allowed us to stop and re-evaluate where we want to be, what we were good at and also ask, “What needs improving?” COVID has forced us to again think outside the box as to how we can continue to care for our customers and our community. We are very grateful to all those who have continued to support us during this time, as well as to all those who have considered us for the first time.
Russell: How has your faith helped you during the past year?
Rose: Just over a year ago, about a month before the virus came to Canada, I was fortunate enough to go on a mission trip to Saipan (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) where I helped to repair houses for the people in need. While I was there, I found out that Franklin Graham was going to be holding a gathering a few weeks after I was to go home, and his organization was looking to gather volunteers to help run things. They needed several hundred people to help run this event, but the churches we were plugged into were not that big. Saipan itself has only about 50,000 people, so getting this amount of volunteers seemed impossible! But the churches prayed about it, and in faith, they put out the call, and before I left for home they had everyone they needed.
This experience has helped me immeasurably during this past year—the idea that if you ask God for what you need he will provide for you. Not in a “health and wealth” kind of way, but like in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day, our daily bread.” There is real dependence on God in that. There is a real statement in that which says, “Even though I don’t know how this is going to happen, I am going to place it with you, God, because I know you can take care of it.”
There were times during the lockdown where my business pretty much ground to a halt and things looked impossible. There were times where, to open, we needed things that just didn’t seem possible to receive. But then God showed me this experience in Saipan where, without a doubt, he was working because that shouldn’t have been possible. Then I have been able to rely on that he will take care of things now as well, and he has done that every day through this difficult time.