RADHICA DE SILVA
Chef Antonio Babb has been trying to make a better life for him and his family.
Despite living in a community of Taradale Gardens, Ste Madeleine, which is tarnished by crime, Babb, 27, studied culinary arts for two years and finally secured his dream job at the Island Beer Chill and Grill Restaurant.
But with the continued restrictions on dining imposed because of COVID-19, Babb said he is now facing the worst challenges of his life.
Speaking to Guardian Media outside the shuttered establishment, Babb said every day he goes down on his knees and prays for a way out.
“I thought I was making it with hard work and perseverance but now I cannot pay my loans and we all have to eat less,” he said.
Babb explained that late last year he invested in a car and took out a loan.
“I am still making payments on the loan and it really hard,” he said.
He explained that he has tried taking orders from his home but this has not worked out.
“People afraid of taking orders because of COVID. I have worked hard to become a chef and now we all facing this,” Babb said. Being the sole breadwinner in his house, Babb said he was desperately looking for a way to pay his bills.
Meanwhile, a former supervisor at the Island Beer Chill and Grill at One Woodbrook Place, Dale Gokool said he too was facing similar pressures.
He said the first set of layoffs occurred in March when restaurants were shut down because of the pandemic. Gokool said about 75 per cent of staff were sent home.
“Only the kitchen staff were kept because we had to give up the in-house dining. We had grab and go,” he said.
As the situation got progressively worse, Babb said he was forced to give up his apartment at Maraval and move back to his parent’s home.
“Everyone had to make adjustments. Once I realized that I had no income I gave up my apartment in Maraval. My monthly life insurance payments and loans had to be readjusted,” he said.
Gokool said life became depressing and he was thankful when he got a part-time job.
“It is not as proper as my normal job but it fills a void. It is very depressing and frustrating. Everyone hoped to get some relief from the government but while some got, others didn’t,” Gokool said.
He added, “This joblessness took a mental toll on a lot of people. You are just there hanging on a thread and praying that things open back so we will get back to normalcy but it is not happening,” Gokool said.
He explained that hundreds of cooks, dishwashers, servers, waiters, supervisors, kitchen assistants and other staff were on the breadline with the continued closure of restaurants.
“It’s a bit unfair that certain establishments are allowed to open. Everyone has been trying to adhere to the rules and regulations. We have been preparing for the reopening. A lot of places are willing to work with the COVID guidelines but they are being victimized. Everyone who is in the industry wants to come back out to work and get back their lives together,” he said.
Another employee who requested anonymity said the government was trying to save lives by enforcing COVID.
“But they are not saving lives. They are forcing more people out in the streets because landlords are evicting people. We have nowhere to go. Come and walk in my shoes then tell me if you are really saving lives,” the employee said.
Anyone wanting to assist Chef Babb can contact him 393- 5307.