Calgary Hungarian eatery holds tight to its roots during COVID-19

After 20 years of delivering traditional Hungarian fare, Jonas' Restaurant had to switch things up to survive

Janos and Rozsa Jonas stand outside their beloved Hungarian eatery Jonas' Restaraunt during less uncertain times.

While Calgarians grapple with the city’s constant state of flux during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s comforting to know that some institutions hope to remain relatively unchanged.

Especially when people have come to love what you have.

Jonas’ Hungarian Restaurant, run solely by Janos Jonas and his wife, Rozsa, is one of many Calgary eateries that will be reopen for dine-out business next week (May 6).

They’re dedicated to keeping the heart of their west Downtown Calgary business intact.

Janos moved his family to Calgary in 1997. They had owned food operations in their home country before and wanted to bring authentic Hungarian cuisine to the city.

They open in 1999, celebrating two decades in business last year.

“We’re fortunate to have lots of steady customers that have been calling to ask when we are reopening, which is a really good feeling,” said Janos.

The Jonas family had to change with the coronavirus times

The coronavirus has hit many Calgary eateries hard. Many have had to pivot to survive. Some have had to close.

Having stuck with the same formula for 20 years, to survive the family knew it had to change, too.

Their menu and hours of operation will be temporarily condensed. The Jonas’ said they’ll remain focused on delivering the same quality and selection of food their loyal customers have come to expect.

“In 20 years we’ve never changed anything, because our customers like what we have,” said Janos.

“But we have to make money, and we have to minimize waste, so offering a shorter menu is the way to do that.”

Even though food supply costs have risen, Jonas’ will also be lowering their prices. They’ll be assembling meals their traditional meals to be more convenient for take-out.

“It’s a really big change for us, but it’s better suited for the times,” said Janka Jonas, Janos’ daughter and social media coordinator.

“We’re in survival mode.”

Janka said the changes are ones they’re seeing made by others just hoping to survive this time.

“It’s pretty much a formula that we’ve been seeing, so we’re basing our strategy on that,” said Janka.

“It’s been a great help mentally and spiritually to know that everyone is in the same boat.”

Keeping COVID out

In addition to the operational changes the restaurant will be implementing, they’re also taking measures to minimize the risk of coronavirus contamination.

Gloves, hand sanitizer and curbside pickup have become the standard. But Jonas’ is also making changes to the layout, such a minimizing contact with doors.

Janos said adjusting to these new safety measures won’t be much of a challenge.

“These measures aren’t far from the restaurant business, so we already had to pay attention to this kind of thing as much, if not more, than other types of businesses,” he said.

While Jonas’ has gone to great lengths to adjust their operations, they’re determined to bring the restaurant back into full service. When the time’s right.

Keeping the Hungarian tradition alive

Premier Jason Kenney announced on Thursday that restaurants may be allowed to reopen with limited capacity in mid-May. The Jonas’ intend to preserve the dining experience they’ve cultivated over the years.

“In a lot of ways, things are never going to be the same. And in some ways, that’s good. But the goal is to get us back where we started,” said Janka.

Janos and Rozsa speak English as a second language, so Janos is grateful for his daughter’s help in navigating the perilous world of social media.

“She’s amazing at it. She’s fantastic,” he said.

Janos said restaurants in downtown Calgary have been struggling for several years now, and that the outbreak of COVID 19 was just the final push.

“I’m sorry that lots of other businesses are closing their doors right now. It’s hard for everyone,” said Janos.

“But we have to try and stay positive. We have to stay alive.”

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