Nearly 70 sugar shacks are determined to survive despite their dining halls being closed for a second year in a row. They embark on the production of meal boxes to be enjoyed at home.

“Our business is not doing well. It has been the most difficult twelve months of our lives, ”notes Stéphanie Laurin, co-owner of Chalet des Érables, in the Laurentians, founded by her grandfather in 1948.

And for good reason. The sugar season had only just started when the pandemic hit Quebec and restaurant dining rooms had to close. As the business model of the majority of sugar shacks is built on hosting year-round events, such as weddings, the rest of 2020 hasn’t been much more successful.

“Our calendar has emptied, practically all our events have been postponed to 2021, and there we are starting to postpone events to 2022”, indicates Ms. Laurin, specifying that the production of maple products generally represents less than 10% of the turnover of sugar shacks.

Ms. Laurin, who in the past year founded the Association des Salles de Reception et Érablières du Québec (ASEQC), reports that, of the 200 sugar shacks identified before the pandemic, about forty of them have closed their doors permanently. , while another 40 have stopped offering meals to focus on the production of maple syrup.

Out of more than a hundred cabins that remain, nearly 70 have decided to join the ASEQC “My cabin at home” project. On the campaign’s website, consumers can already order a menu from a sugar shack in their region. The boxes will be available at 200 Metro grocery stores, directly at sugar bushes and sometimes even for home delivery.

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“Last year, some cabins made boxes, but for many, profitability was not there. They are often in remote areas… Who wants to make an hour’s drive to pick up binnes and ham? », Slips Ms. Laurin.

Safeguard our heritage

“We want the public to adhere to our proposal, in order to ensure the survival and longevity of this important tradition for our Quebec economy”, pleads for his part Guillaume Néron, coordinator of the Authentic sugar shack of the Domaine in Liguori, in Charlevoix. The year was also very gloomy for his company, which is still in the red zone.

“We’ve been working with our team in our kitchens for a few weeks. We are happy to meet again to prepare this project, ”says Mr. Néron, who says he has already received several orders.

The latter believes that sugar bushes have a unique experience to offer, even at home. “We showcase local producers with local menus. Some offers will be more gastronomic. And by purchasing, people will have access to a virtual show (notably featuring 2Frères, Daniel Boucher, Yves Lambert and Guylaine Tanguay), ”he underlines.

Measures to help sugar bushes

The “My Cabin at Home” platform received financial assistance of $ 50,000 from the Government of Quebec. In addition, the Minister of Agriculture announced last week some measures to come to the aid of sugar shacks, including one for “the modernization of production or processing facilities or even [pour] additional investments in promotion and marketing activities ”, read a government press release.

The government also intends to allow the sugar shacks to open and remain open later in the season, if sanitary conditions permit. “We pay attention to this industry,” said the Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon, Monday, on the sidelines of an event about Montreal. Note that, for the moment, only sugar bushes in the orange zone can accommodate customers from their own region, with a maximum of two adults from the same household per table and their minor children.

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Furthermore, the majority of Quebec’s 7,400 maple syrup producers do not operate a sugar shack. For them, 2020 was an exceptional year in terms of sales and production volume, i.e. 175 million pounds of syrup. “The weather was really on our side, it’s the best year of production that we’ve had,” explains Hélène Normandin, communications director for Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

They expect maple sap to start flowing in early March, but they’ve already started making 50 million taps on their trees.

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