Before health and safety restrictions were imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Marilyn Dib worked Monday to Friday, 8 hours a day. Or at least, that’s how she remembers it. As Operations Manager of Cedars & Co. her working hours are not always framed by a typical working week. After COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, however, Marilyn’s hours changed dramatically. She now works 7 days a week, from 7:00 am all day until to 2:00 am. Keeping track of what’s in stock, what’s flying off the shelves more quickly than usual, searching for suppliers that have either closed or paused due to shortages, and making sure that staff and clients are well-protected have become a round the-clock job.
Cedars & Co. Food Market is a family business with two locations in Ottawa: one on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South (OOS), the other in Alta Vista on Kilborn near Virginia Avenue. Marilyn runs Cedars & Co. with her husband, the owner of the business, Brian Mahmoud. In OOS you’re probably familiar with some of the staff at Cedars: Mahvash, Bader, Paul, Moodie, Frances, Thi, Michilin (currently on leave taking care of her children), Leila (recently retired), and Marwan the shawarma chef. They’re wearing masks now, but that hasn’t changed their friendly and helpful service. Under Marwan’s careful scrutiny, Cedars’ shawarma takeout food is available once again. It closed temporarily to determine what safety measures were necessary. Customers now pay at the grocery cash and you will see only Marwan, the sole operator of takeout, behind plexiglass. Before COVID-19, Marilyn’s daughter Yasmine used to help out at the store. Yasmine now sticks close to home and, like a lot of children, is learning online. Key for Marilyn at this point in time is making sure that Cedars is safe for both staff and clients. Four times a day interior and exterior public areas are sanitized. Inside, all public stations like food counters, cashier plexiglass barriers and debit machines are disinfected. Outside, bike racks, shopping carts, and door handles are disinfected.
How we can help
Hand sanitizer and gloves are available for clients as you enter. Cedars staff wear masks and it is very much appreciated when clients do the same. Wearing masks and moving quickly through our local Cedars grocery store is an excellent “rule of thumb” during these times of uncertainty. We are in pandemic mode. It’s hard to distinguish from allergy, cold and flu coughs or sneezes. Wearing a mask at your local grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic is simply a courtesy to staff and other shoppers. Please note this does not include ski masks. This alarms staff and other shoppers. Courtesy and respect for each other’s sense of safety is paramount. Homemade masks, scarves or turtlenecks are welcome. Bring a list when you go grocery shopping. This is not the time to stroll or ponder over produce. Nor is it acceptable to open cleaning or sanitizing products in the store to see if you like the fragrance. Another excellent “rule of thumb” is come alone. Designate one family member to shop for a household. Children have a way of wandering and touching what they see on shelves. In normal times, Cedars might encourage this familiarity with food and other products, but not under COVID-19 restrictions.
Working Hard to Keep Shelves Stocked
Marilyn, Brian, Mahvash, Thi and Paul are working to make sure we have enough food. To accommodate for shortages like flour and yeast, Marilyn has sought new suppliers. Some mills have closed to adapt to new safety requirements, and others just can’t keep up with the demand. For your safety and convenience, Cedars’ staff are prepackaging bulk produce (like flour). So, if you notice something different, it is likely done with you in mind. As Marilyn said, “One door closes, two others open. New brands will replace familiar ones because they’re available.” Out of the 196 suppliers with whom Cedars does business, 190 have come through., 6 fell short. So, Marilyn is feeling fortunate. If you notice new brands, however, you’ll know why. Marilyn is constantly keeping track of what’s moving, what Cedars is low on, and where she can get replacements. Food produce and other products come mainly from Ontario, Quebec and the United States. Mahvash is doing everything possible to ensure that produce remains full and will source locally whenever available.
Helping to maintain a steady food supply
How can we (Cedars customers) help maintain a steady food supply? Buy what you need for the week. Do not stock up or hoard. Buy six avocados instead of twenty, one red leaf lettuce instead of three, two granola bags instead of eight, one bag of flour instead of five. Stockpiling or hoarding creates unnecessary shortages and huge challenges in the supply chain. Normally, bringing your own shopping bags or green bins is welcome. For the time being, however, Cedars will pack your groceries for you in their plastic bags. For those of you who require home delivery, Cedars will deliver to OOS community residents who are currently under quarantine, in self-isolation, or those over 60 years of age who are unable to leave their residence due to Public Health recommendations. There will be no person-to-person contact when delivery arrives. Purchases are made via email. Contact email@example.com or telephone: 613-288-2797. Credit card payment information is obtained only by telephone. Cedars & Co. has served OOS for over 10 years. It provides an essential service in our vibrant and growing community. Their dedication and attention to providing the food we need has been a source of pleasure and convenience to all of OOS and beyond. During the COVID-19 pandemic Cedars has continued to operate and make sure we don’t go without. Like many distributors of food, Cedars has been identified as an essential service. When restrictions were first announced, Marilyn Dib (like so many of us) scrambled to comprehend what these restrictions meant to her family, business, staff, and customers. Marilyn takes her responsibility to the public seriously. She enjoys working with people and likes to think of Cedars & Co. as one big extended family. She has always loved working with food and finds the complicated process of providing food for customers a challenge. But now more than ever before, ensuring food security for the general public has taken on a whole new dimension. COVID-19 restrictions have weighed heavily on Marilyn and her family. The hours are long and the challenges are many, but Marilyn loves what she is doing. And she’s good at it. She also has a profound sense of how important her work is and how important it will continue to be.
Winnie Pietrykowski is a longtime resident of OOS, an OSCA Board member, and the Chair of OSCA’s Communications Committee.
This article was originally published in the May-June 2020 edition of the OSCAR.