Beckta on Elgin St. reopens for lunch as more workers return to offices in the core

Beckta Dining and Wine Bar
Beckta Dining & Wine Bar at 150 Elgin St. will be welcoming diners back for lunch. Photo by Ashley Fraser for Beckta.

As workers slowly return to the downtown core, bringing with them an appetite for social gatherings and fine dining, local restaurateur Stephen Beckta says he’s ready to satisfy the “growing hunger.”

Beckta, who’s the president of Beckta Dining & Wine, Gezellig, and Play Food & Wine, said the market for fine dining downtown is rising and, to meet the renewed demand, Beckta Dining is reopening for lunch service April 24.

The team at the fine dining restaurant at 150 Elgin St. is excited to get back into the swing of things, said Beckta. The restaurant was closed during the pandemic, then reopened for dinner service only as the team navigated rising costs, staff shortages and the lack of workers and foot traffic in the downtown core. 

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“It’s definitely been a bit of a roller-coaster ride,” said Beckta. “We reopened for dinner, but there were not a lot of people back at work, most were working remotely, so we really concentrated on dinner. And up until about a year ago, staffing was also very tight.

“There would be a period of people going out, especially corporate groups, and then the roller-coaster went down again,” he continued. “Overall, it’s just been very challenging.”

But now, Beckta said, things are changing. The end of 2023 saw a “fantastic” bump in demand for fine dining, he explained, as well as lots of inquiries about the possible return of lunch dining. 

“There are not a ton of places open for lunch around us, we did a big scan about this, and even in our own parking lots nearby are packed most weekdays,” he said. “There are a ton of people here, we just need to be creative and find new and interesting ways to grow sales and grow business.”

A big part of the choice to reopen for lunch is to offer more shifts to staff, Beckta added. In the past six months, he said, staffing challenges have “changed dramatically.”

“There are lots of people who used to be in the industry, left, missed it and have now come back to us,” he explained. “So we now have lots of great team members and want to give them greater opportunities to earn money and work.”

The downtown situation isn’t completely back to normal, said Beckta, adding he doesn’t know if it ever will be. For example, the restaurant will only be open for lunch Tuesday to Friday, as the downtown core is often quiet on Mondays.

“I’m not sure if (Monday lunch) will ever be viable again, because people love to work at home and not rush into the office Monday morning,” he explained. 

Not all of Beckta’s establishments face the downtown struggles, he explained. For example, Gezellig, which offers the fine dining experience in Westboro, has been the “shining star” over the past few years, Beckta said.

Due to the restaurant’s location, Gezellig draws diners from surrounding neighbourhoods, as well as from areas such as Stittsville and Manotick, Beckta explained. 

“It has stayed super busy,” said Beckta. “People are there because they live there, working from home, or nearby and want to meet up with colleagues or friends for fine dining during the workday without having to go downtown.”

The key to success for the Elgin Street restaurant will be special events and “creative solutions” to draw people to the core, Beckta said. For example, on April 17 the restaurant will host a wine dinner with Niagara-based Hidden Bench Estate Winery, with eight current and vintage wines and a five-course menu.

“We have to keep giving people reasons to come downtown. We do menu changes all the time and we’re doing this special wine dinner with the winemaker and you can interact in your own town with these producers,” explained Beckta. “We just have to give people compelling reasons to come out.”

And while economic pressures have led many consumers to view dining out as a luxury, Beckta said he’s prioritizing a valuable experience that’s worth the price, something that has always been a pillar of his restaurants.

“There’s a growing hunger for it. So it’s all about keeping up with changing appetites. People want lunch, but people are nervous going out to dine right now because food inflation has gone up so much,” he explained. “Something we’ve been focusing on at all three places is incredible value.

“So even if the prices are minimally higher, there’s guaranteed an extraordinary experience,” Beckta continued. “We’re just excited about getting to serve it as lunch again.”

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