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Wakefield pizzeria serves up last slice

March 27th,2024 | Municipal News, News

Kassandra McNeill, Michel Houle and Marie-Josée Baril stand outside of the Pizza de Luigi’s on Chemin de la Vallée-de-Wakefield. Sadly, rising costs and diminishing sales mean that the family-operated business will have to close on March 31. Photo: Madeline Kerr

Luigi’s Pizza in Wakefield is closing for good, but it still needs your money.

In an interview with the Low Down on March 22, Pizza de Luigi co-owner Marie-Josée Baril confirmed that despite a GoFundMe call to the community for donations to “Save Luigi’s Pizza!,” the shop will serve its last slice at the end of the month.

She told the Low Down that she still needs $35,000 to pay suppliers and her 10 employees who she called “troopers.”

“It’s a question of integrity…it’s the right thing to do and the only option, really,” Baril said. “My suppliers have been there for me over the years and I need to back them up.” She added, “And most importantly, I need to look after my employees.”

The $35,000 she is asking for – down from the original ask of $75,000 – will go towards supplier debts and vacation pay for her soon-to-be former employees.

Baril said that she is devastated to say goodbye to her family business, admitting that the hardest part was breaking the news to her workers.

“It was so hard, but I had to be honest with them,” said an emotional Baril.

She told the Low Down that “a complication of factors” have led to the business being forced to close its doors on March 31.

Baril explained that sales have taken a serious hit in the last year, which she believes is the result of Canadians’ collective belt-tightening as the cost of living soars. She said that she’s also struggled to find enough staff and can’t afford the minimum wage pay increase of 50 cents per hour that is coming into effect in Quebec on May 1. 

On top of that, the cost of making a pizza has skyrocketed since the pandemic: before, Baril said that one shipment of pepperoni would cost her $90; just a few years later, the cost has doubled to $180 for the same volume. 

Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans that were offered to small businesses during the pandemic are now being called in by the federal government at five per cent interest – another expense that Pizza de Luigi can’t absorb, Baril explained.

Last year, Luigi’s moved from its home of nearly 10 years at 12 Ch. de la Vallée-de-Wakefield and now rents the former home of Sur la Lune Ice Cream Shop just a few doors down and across the street. At the same time, Luigi’s took over the ice cream parlour and began offering both sweet and savoury treats. 

The move was an effort to save the business, which Baril said was already facing financial difficulties, but ultimately, it didn’t pay off. 

Baril, who works a full-time job besides managing Luigi’s, said that she’s faced criticism from some for not being open on certain days of the week. But she said that she doesn’t regret staying closed, even on profitable days like Sunday, because it meant she could spend time with her family. 

“There will always be some people who are quick to judge, but until you’ve been in this business, until you’ve done this kind of work, you really can’t say anything…[because] you have no idea what it’s like,” she said.  

In recent years, Baril worked alongside her daughter, Kassandra McNeill, and son-in-law, Michel Houle, who she said “make an amazing team.” She watched with pride as the two worked together to churn out a whopping 50 pizzas every Thursday morning in order to supply lunch for the Wakefield Elementary School. 

Across the province, too, the situation is bleak: In September last year The Suburban reported that 20 per cent of Quebec restaurants have closed since the start of the pandemic. 

“I’m hopeful that other businesses can keep thriving in Wakefield because we have some amazing eateries here,” said Baril.  

“I really want to say a big thank you to [the community] for the continued support, the memories, and the laughs over the years,” she added. “I’ve always fought to keep going, even maybe, in retrospect, when I shouldn’t have,” Baril said, holding back tears. “I know that when one door closes, another opens…there is something else out there for me, and this has been an amazing experience in a lot of ways.”

Baril’s GoFundMe has received $1,375 in donations by the time of publication. Luigi’s will officially close its doors March 31.

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