‘We came in on a lockdown, we’re going out on a lockdown:’ Robusta Cafe & Lounge shutting down

Robusta Cafe & Lounge opened during the first provincial lockdown and is set to close during the current provincial lockdown

Two years after taking over the lease of Robusta Cafe & Lounge, Wessel Engelbrecht and Danielle Davidson are pouring their last cup of coffee and baking their last pastries while saying goodbye to their regulars.

The cornerstone cafe at Macdonell and Woolwich is set to permanently close on Jan. 23.

The decision to close shop comes from mounting financial pressure the numerous provincial lockdowns over the last two years have placed on the businesses’ revenue stream, as well as a decision from the property owners to hike the rent.

Davidson said despite the forced closure, she did exactly what she set out to do.

“Unfortunately, COVID hit and in the two years we thought we would have to turn the business around and go forward with it, it turned into this survival mode of how are we going to get through the next two years. We did exactly what we set out to do. We got the business on the right track, we got some really great regular customers, build a really awesome team and created a really great menu.”

Fulfilling Davidson’s lifelong dream to own and manage a restaurant, the duo purchased Robusta Cafe & Lounge on Macdonell Street in March of 2020.

Days later the first provincial lockdown was implemented – shuttering the cafe’s in-person dining and forcing the owners to adopt to take out. 

At the time, Davidson and Engelbrecht opted to sign a two-year lease instead of a five-year term, which is now coming due and the option to re-sign a five-year lease comes with too many uncertainties.

“We took over March 16 and we locked down on March 17, so this is our fourth time locking down,” said Davidson. “We came in on a lockdown, we’re going out on a lockdown as well, so you know it’s like each time they lock us down from an operation perspective it gets easier because we know how to pivot to takeout and whatnot, but each one also gets harder in the sense our tanks our running on empty and the funding is decreasing as the pandemic is going on.”

Davidson said the $10,000 grant announced by the Ford government on Friday would only have scratched the surface of the costs associated with running the restaurant.

Embodying the spirit of community and supporting local small businesses, Davidon worked to ensure every dish was touched by a local product and in doing so supported over 30 businesses in the Guelph area.

“We really tried to emphasize that, anytime we can get something local we really try to do local,” said Davidson.

This ranged from buying honey from local shops, using local dairy farmers and hiring local photographers for product shoots.

Despite the initial roadblock, the couple revamped their restaurant and immediately started giving back to the community.

When speaking to the community, Davidson said the hardest part of closing down was the initial announcement and the heartfelt support from the community

“It’s more than I ever thought would happen, I didn’t anticipate this many people would miss us,” said Davidson. “If I could say anything to them I would say ‘thank you, I’m going to miss them and they’ve kept us alive for two years and I really really tried to be able to move forward with this and unfortunately it’s not going to work out.”

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