Desjardins Insurance GoodSpark Small Business Grants Spotlight

Pre-pandemic, there wasn't a day The Joker's Crown Pub wasn't full of local diners who would come to eat, hang out and share a few laughs. With its fun-loving, warm atmosphere, hearty pub fare, and friendly staff who went out of their way to welcome everyone who came through the pub's doors, The Joker's Crown always had a large crowd at night for live music and karaoke.

Christine Kneilands, who opened the pub a few years back, is somewhat of a one-woman show behind it all. Obviously, she has a team to support her and deeply appreciates them, but it's Christine's dedication and grit that has won the clients' hearts. For residents of Ingersoll, Ontario and the surrounding area, Christine was able to build a pub known as a favourite local spot that brought the community together.

But those were the good old days; once COVID-19 hit, Christine's business took a big hit. She found herself having to navigate challenging--and constantly changing--pandemic restrictions. Christine had to make some fast, nimble and difficult business decisions.

During the first province-wide shutdown, the pub stayed open for takeout and delivery. While times were tough, business was still steady. When the pub was able to reopen for in-person dining, it returned to 50% capacity, which gave Christine a faint glimmer of hope. However, that hope was short-lived as a second shutdown left her with no choice but to pivot back to takeout and delivery, and staff had to be laid off. This time, the continuous rollercoaster of openings and closings had taken its toll, affecting operations and staff significantly as her business became less sustainable.

Amidst all this uncertainty, in early April 2021, Christine was seriously injured in a vehicle collision. This made the stress of keeping her business afloat ten times worse. During her recovery, she couldn't be around noise and lights and was unable to take on the full load of her work duties. Faced with no other option, she had to make the tough decision to close the pub entirely until restrictions lifted and she could rehire her staff.

After hearing about her struggles, local community members banded together to help the pub keep its " "crown" and stay in business.

"When patios were finally allowed, I was on a mission to gain approval from the town. I paid an engineer and an architect to make designs and after three stamped drawings, the town finally approved. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of wood, so I rented a trailer and drove an hour away to purchase some, which cost $4,000 in all. Ten employees and customers showed up to help build the patio. The town did not approve the final inspection and I was crushed. I had to buy a 30' black iron checker plate ($1,500) to meet their requirements and it was finally approved. "

It was around this time that Ann Lofthouse, Christine's Desjardins Insurance Agent, suggested that she apply to Desjardins's GoodSpark Small Business Grants program. She didn't think much of it until one day Ann invited her to a meeting. When Christine arrived at the pub, she was presented with a $10,000 grant from the Small Business Grants program.

" I couldn't believe it... it totally saved me," says Christine.

This grant allowed Christine to invest in her employees and to be able to afford PPE equipment for her business and staff. Today, her business is going strong as locals return to the outdoor patio and indoor dining area to enjoy a hand-pressed burger. With pandemic restrictions easing, Christine has even brought back the pub's beloved live music and karaoke nights. But most importantly, there's now a palpable sense of optimism among diners and staff that invokes the lively energy of the restaurant's heyday.

Looking back, Christine is grateful that her community came together to support her and her business, helping The Joker's Crown Pub persevere through incredibly tough times.

While Christine feels fortunate that her business was able to survive, she is even more ecstatic that the local community can once again gather at the pub. From her regulars, to her staff, to her financial supporters, this experience taught her to never underestimate the power of community.

Learn more about the Desjardins Insurance GoodSpark Small Business Grants: Desjardins Insurance announces $1 million program to support small businesses across Canada

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