Virginia Potkins: Lost her Jobs and Opened a Restaurant

Virginia Potkins has lived in Alberta Avenue for three years. After losing all her work due to Covid, she opened Two Brown Dogs Bistro and Catering. 

Potkins explained, “I lost all my work within 48 hours. I was in shock for a month—not knowing if I could stay in my rental house. I didn’t know if I could pay rent. Thank God for our federal government coming up with assistance. Thank God they put in rental rules so people couldn’t get evicted. Most frustrating was the provincial government’s process on benefits. I emailed and did not qualify. I asked why not, but I finally did get it.” 

When the pandemic shut businesses and people were out of work, the Government of Alberta came up with an interim plan to provide funding for people. The program was available for two weeks and closed as soon as the federal government released the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program. Recipients whose income disappeared or was drastically reduced were eligible for the accessible program. 

To keep herself busy and earn some additional income, Potkins found a commercial kitchen on the southside where she could prepare food for catering.

Potkins lost several jobs. 

“I was working at NAIT Café for Petroleum in the PIC building—a café serving breakfast and lunch and I was training to work in another department. I was also working at the ATA [Alberta Teachers’ Association] catering department for meetings and in the cafeteria. I just got my catering license and had a 150 person gala booked for March 13.” She also lost all of her dog sitting work because everyone was staying at home. 

She said, “It was terrifying. I only have me.” She continued, “Around April, I was getting into the groove of, ‘OK, I need this rest’ and realizing everything is out of my control and there is nothing I can do about it. I decided to just enjoy it. That lasted three weeks.”

To keep herself busy and earn some additional income, Potkins found a commercial kitchen on the southside where she could prepare food for catering.  

“I did a Mother’s Day Isolation Brunch and a Father’s Day Isolation Brunch and started preparing freezer meals.” Customers pre-ordered the brunches and Potkins delivered the food to their homes.

Potkins said, “Then I heard Passion de France [a boutique bakery on 118 Avenue and 96 Street] was selling and I thought it was a good opportunity. I knew I needed a plan. I had a plan, just not one the bank would look at. I borrowed money from my ex-husband as a loan and I sold my RV, which was out at Allan Beach.”  

She had thought about opening a restaurant and sharing her love of cooking for a long time. “It was a decade-old dream that was always in the back of my mind.” 

Despite feeling that it is a big risk to be self-employed, Potkins took the time and opportunity to consider the idea of opening a restaurant. The shutdown gave her the time to practice and perfect new recipes. 

This is not the first time Potkins has re-defined her life. 

 “I left a 15-year banking career to work in hospitality. I read cookbooks for ideas and guidelines. I like to colour outside the lines. I never read recipes. I have 35 of my own recipes for perogies: pizza, reuben, all different.”

Potkins also owns an event planning business, and that changed as well.

“I was going to do six pop-up markets via my Gina Miller business. The community league opened on June 12 and I scheduled a pop-up for June 19. There were lots of restrictions. One way in, one way out traffic, and you can’t count on volunteers to manage that. It wasn’t feasible to do one market per month, so I decided to do one per week instead. Hiring staff to do crowd control and keep the washrooms clean.” 

Although her life has changed a lot due to the pandemic, Potkins doesn’t mind the changes to socialization. She said , “I’m not lonely. I like my ‘me’ time. I don’t need a lot of human companionship. I am happy to go away and be with my animals.” 

Potkins shares her two (brown) dogs, Angus and Bo, with Jeff, her ex-husband.  “I was always a loner kid. But I did get a cat. I see Jeff four times a week. We’re very good friends. I run into people at the park.”

The interior of the restaurant is open for takeout, and seating is outside for the summer. 

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