The House, owner of the Atlantic, examines the challenges and opportunities of small businesses

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ALEXANDRIA — Midway through 2019, there weren’t many small business models that factored in a global health crisis.

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So why did Ron Edwards buy The Atlantic Pub & Eatery in Alexandria, literally six months into the pandemic?

His wife Mia loved the place, loved the city.

“It was for sale, I asked, we ended up buying it, and here we are,” Edwards said, seated at a table just as the St. Patrick’s Day entertainment began on stage. “It’s the first one that’s a restaurant.”

Edwards was no rookie in the food and beverage industry – although in a new town and coming from out of town, he sometimes felt like one at first.

On Thursday, the former Montrealer and longtime owner of Duffy’s Bar and Grill in Dorval, Que., and La Maison in Cornwall, was joined by Cornwall and Alexandria facilities manager Davey Bedard of Cornwall to talk about the challenges of operating small businesses over the past few years, and to see what the landscape of pubs and entertainment might look like as the pandemic slowly recedes.

“You know what? I think we’ve done some good things, and I think one of the reasons why, from a business perspective, we haven’t viewed the pandemic as entirely negative, we’ve done it. ‘ve used to our advantage, horrible as it is,” Edwards said.

The Atlantic was refurbished during an early lockdown, and when it reopened under new ownership in late November 2019, a month later, everything was shut again.

“I think we had five big openings,” Edwards joked, but, he added, “because of the pandemic, we started slowly. We learned from the community, we tweaked some things, we tried different things – I had to, I had never been to Alexandria before.

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“We would have been overwhelmed if we had opened at full capacity.”

Edwards was a bartender in downtown Montreal when he was a very young man. He then took over a family construction business, running it until 2016. He’s owned the tiny but well-known Duffy for a decade. Five years ago, Edwards, who now resides in Summerstown, purchased La Maison.

Shortly after, Bedard entered the scene. Bedard has spent his entire life in the special events industry and was entertainment manager at the Jet Set Pub at the Nav Center in Cornwall. Bedard was also a businessman, a printing technician by trade who ran his own business.

But when he met the new owner of La Maison, saw the investments that were being made there, the changes that were being made there, he was very intrigued and consulted his wife before making the huge decision to drop his company and to team up with Edwards.

“I don’t regret it at all,” Bedard said.

The two have been making things work during what continue to be difficult times – just two weeks ago they were finally able to run the pubs at full capacity. They remember when pubs had to close at 9pm – that’s a toxic closing time for a bar.

“Our top customers were so supportive that they just came in early,” Edwards said.

Then there was inflation and overhead to try to manage. At one point, the two recounted, there was a shortage of chicken wings. So a box of chicken wings went from $99 to $179 — overnight, Edwards said.

But they always survive, sometimes thrive. Edwards’ three pubs are venues for live entertainment, and he said there was a need for it. La Maison and The Atlantic are very different, but both are places to enjoy live music and live comedy shows.

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However, overall for the industry, the pandemic, and now inflation, has changed the landscape.

“A lot of bars and restaurants didn’t survive,” Bedard said. “Especially in big cities, with astronomical rental prices.”

The two were asked to look into their crystal balls, or maybe it was their beer glasses, and speculate on what the future holds. After all, it was St. Patrick’s Day, the unofficial start of the spring and summer social season. And both are optimistic, in large part, they said, because of the dedicated staff members who have stuck with them through the ups and downs.

“Everyone took a bullet,” Edwards said. “But they will reap the rewards as we move forward.

“We have a plan and we want to give people somewhere to go.”

And for the Atlantic, this will include a large outdoor area, where the Glengarry Celtic Festival was held at the end of last summer. Much earlier this year, on June 4, there will be a mini Celtic festival, headlined by the popular Mudmen.

At La Maison, upcoming special events will include the Chesterfields Spring Dance Party, with special guest Caleb, on April 16.

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