Kamloops restaurateur closes business for week to give staff a mental health break

Needless to say, it’s a tough time to work in the service industry – and it led a restaurateur in British Columbia to decide it was time to tidy everything up and send his staff home.

But not for good.

After seeing his staff working under stressful pandemic conditions since spring 2020, Senor Froggy owner Rob Stodola is giving them a week of paid leave to rest and recharge, starting September 13.

“Let’s face it, this has been a tough year,” said Stodola, whose well-known Mexican establishments in Kamloops, B.C., have been serving customers since the early 1980s.

“We don’t make normal business decisions.”

Jennifer McEwen, who runs a Senor Froggy location, says having a week off with pay is huge after being laid off from a previous job in 2020, caring for young children during a pandemic, and then working in the food industry with regularly changing protocols. (Jenifer Norwell / CBC News)

Stodola said it’s not only COVID-19 that has contributed to unprecedented levels of stress for himself and his staff, but also the recent discovery of remains at the city’s former boarding school, The Wave of this summer’s deadly heat and another heartbreaking wildfire season in the interior of British Columbia.

Calling it a “hot and stressful summer roller coaster,” Stodola says her hard-working employees deserve a cool-down.

“Without people, without people, we cannot function – and they have been amazing,” he said.

The two Senor Froggy sites employ around 40 people.

Jennifer McEwen, manager of Senor Froggy restaurant on the city’s north shore, says having a full week of paid time off is huge.

McEwen was fired from a retail job in 2020 and says it’s the first time an employer has truly supported her.

McEwen and Stodola work in Senor Froggy’s kitchen on the North Shore, which will close on September 13 for seven days. (Jenifer Norwell / CBC News)

“I have never felt more like part of a whole, part of a unit, like someone who is taken care of and treated well like I do here,” she said.

McEwen sees the welcome break not as a sign of weakness, but as a reward for the strength and adaptability of the staff as they navigate the ever-changing industry protocols.

“We are not closing because we cannot manage it, we are closing because we have managed it,” she said.

Senor Froggy employee Kimberlee Bryson says having free time to rest and recharge with a paycheck is invaluable. (Jenifer Norwell / CBC News)

Kimberlee Bryson worked for Stodola while her firefighter son battled fires and her daughter worked in healthcare cleaning hospitals due to COVID-19.

It was a stressful race for the whole family.

Knowing that she has the opportunity to band together with a salary is an invaluable gift to her at this time.

“You can’t put a value on it,” Bryson said.

The two Senor Froggy sites will reopen on September 21.

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