Pandemic-strapped downtown restaurants celebrate return of Jets hockey

Puck drop for the start of the Winnipeg Jets preseason at the Canada Life Centre isn't just exciting news for hockey fans but for restaurants in the downtown area too.

Across the street from Canada Life Centre, Browns Socialhouse is getting ready for its first Jets rush in almost two years.

Justin Guest, the restaurant's general manager, said events like Jets games feel like a return to normal.

"It's a big part of our atmosphere to really cater to this type of market, and these events, so we're really looking forward to it," Guest said.

COVID-19 has taken a toll on restaurants and bars in the downtown area, and Sunday's Jets game is the first game since March of 2020 that the general public can attend.

Guest said he's expecting a big turnout.

"We're going to see a few hundred today. I think it's a really exciting crowd who want to get out. We want to get as many as we can in here within limits as long as we can continue to be safe."

Jazlyn Hrem, a bartender at Browns Socialhouse, continued to work during the lockdowns but said it's hard to get by without people coming to dine in.

"[For] people working in the industry, of course, tips are a large part of what they look forward to every shift, so going without that is tough."

Hrem said Sunday's Jets game will be a boost for servers in the downtown area.

"You definitely look forward to all the events, whether it's Jets games, concerts, anything like that, so a big event downtown like this is super important."

The Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservice Association said COVID-19 has financially decimated downtown restaurants due to the lack of people in the area.

Shaun Jeffrey, the association's CEO, said Jets games returning to downtown and bringing thousands of people with it is a step towards recovery for restaurants in the area.

"It's definitely a win/win for everybody, and it's a good way to start to raise the spirits of those downtown operators and staff that have maybe missed out on Manitobans [not being] able to come downtown."

Jeffrey said that having a thriving downtown with events creates more active business in the area.

Guest believes the downtown restaurant industry is on the way to recovery.

"I am looking forward to seeing the heartbeat of downtown Winnipeg return. I believe it has to do with the return of the Winnipeg Jets first."