Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop Halifax’s love of burgers.
From Oct. 22 to 31, The Coast newspaper held their annual Halifax Burger Week event. These seven days of eating normally take place during a week in March, but were extended to 10 days and pushed into the fall by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The premise of the week is simple: Each participating restaurant offers a creative $6 burger or a more expensive option. A minimum of $1 for each burger sold is then donated to Feed Nova Scotia.
“It’s [always been] a big eating event and helps support our restaurant clients. It’s also a really big charity initiative as well,” said Haley Clarke, Burger Week event coordinator. This year, supporting local businesses was more important than ever before as many have suffered due to the pandemic.
According to Clarke, Haligonians know how to support their community.
“As Nova Scotians, as Haligonians, small business is the backbone of our community. [Burger Week] happens once a year so it feels special, and it’s supporting local and supporting Feed Nova Scotia. I think that’s the reason why people can get behind it,” Clarke said.
When COVID-19 struck Halifax, Clarke said their initial idea was to postpone this year’s event to June. But they realized this wasn’t realistic and decided on October, when business for restaurants slows down after the summer season.
Making the event 10 days this year was an important adaptation to help ensure restaurants and patrons were able to follow COVID-19 guidelines, according to Clarke. With three extra days, including an additional weekend for the public to get out, Clarke said restaurant guests were able to “spread out the crazy.” The extra days allowed restaurants to maintain social distancing; people felt less urgency to get out in one weekend, which resulted in shorter lineups outside. Many restaurants also offered takeout and delivery options.
Evangelos Panopalis, owner of Athens Restaurant on Quinpool Road, said they shut down completely from March 17 until May 6. The recovery has been slow. The day the restaurant closed was “the worst day of my business life,” Panopalis said. The pandemic forced him to lay off 35 staff.
In a normal year, Burger Week is “one of the best weeks in the year,” said Panopalis. Even before COVID-19, restaurants in Halifax usually have less business during January and February, and Burger Week is when restaurants used to start to see a turnaround, Panopalis said.
Due to constant construction on Quinpool Road during the last five years, Panopalis’ business has seen a downward trend. After being closed for seven weeks due to COVID-19, they have yet to reach 70 per cent of the revenue they had last year.
“Everything helps,” Panopalis said, “but it’s certainly a far cry from a regular Burger Week.”
Panopalis said supporting the big chains is also important for supporting the community. “It’s difficult for me to say, ‘only support small, family-owned businesses,’ ’cause the people that live here work at all these other places too.”
Meredith Hines, manager of HopYard Halifax, a bar and restaurant on Gottingen Street, said they also shut down completely for three months, but were lucky enough to keep their Charlottetown branch open for takeout. Hines said Burger Week has been helpful for the now reopened Halifax branch.
“It usually brings in a lot of hype, just for that one week,” she said. “So it’s definitely helpful in that sense and bringing different people that probably haven’t even been to HopYard before.”
Burgers for charity
While there were only 146 restaurants participating this year, as opposed to 160 in 2019, Clarke says this year’s Burger Week marks the most restaurants ever to have donated part of their burger proceeds to Feed Nova Scotia.
The province’s food bank needs more support this year than any year in the past. A lot of their fundraisers and food drives have been cancelled or postponed. Yet the need is up because many people have lost their jobs and are relying on Feed Nova Scotia for support, said Clarke.
“Solely in that aspect, in supporting Feed Nova Scotia and supporting your community, this year is the year to get behind [Burger Week] if that’s what means the most to you,” Clarke said.
Moxey Munch, a food enthusiast and YouTube personality, was chosen as one of two Burger Week 2020 ambassadors. She decided to give back to Feed Nova Scotia personally.
As a Burger Week ambassador, Munch was awarded $500 to buy burgers and share her experience on social media. For every burger she tried, she gave an additional $10 to Feed Nova Scotia with the intent to match her donations with the prize money by eating 50 burgers. She also encouraged others to donate on her YouTube channel, telling the audience if they donated as well, she’d match an additional $500 of donations to Feed Nova Scotia.
“This year is such a tough year, and I am very fortunate that I still have a job and a roof over my head,” said Munch. “I want to make sure that we as a community as a whole are helping those around us.”
Everyone has found 2020 challenging and Burger Week was a reminder of the community we’ve been missing in our lives, said Munch.
After all, Munch said, “Who doesn’t like having an excuse to eat hamburgers and french fries?”
Correction: This article initially stated Halifax Burger Week 2020 raised more donations to Feed Nova Scotia than any year before. That is incorrect. This year’s Burger Week had the most restaurants ever sign up to donate part of their burger proceeds to Feed Nova Scotia. The Gazette has updated the article and apologizes for this error.