It’s been a good year for The Grand Pizzeria but, more than anything, owner David Mangano is excited to see what the year ahead holds for the ByWard Market as upcoming initiatives aim to breathe new life into the area. OBJ’s Mia Jensen interviewed Mangano about the post-pandemic challenges of running a restaurant and what’s keeping him going in the face of it all.
The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: As we’re coming out of the pandemic, how has the last year been for The Grand?
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A: Coming out of the pandemic has actually been really good. There’s a sort of celebratory mood amongst many people, being able to get back to normal life. So 2022 and 2023 were really good and our sales show it as well. A lot of happy people not having to be stuck at home anymore.
Q: What kinds of challenges have you been dealing with?
A: Safety and security, which is always an ongoing challenge in the (ByWard) Market. That’s a challenge that we’ve had since I’ve been in the Market since 1997. It’s a challenge when you have an area like this with a lot of people. So that’s one of our concerns, but it is getting better. We have that police kiosk coming to the Rideau Centre and there has been enforcement from bylaw, health services and the police.
In terms of other challenges, everybody these days has got 500 or a thousand bucks a month in extra expenses, whether it be an increase in your interest rates for your mortgage, groceries, taxes, you name it. It does affect our sales. And it’s everybody, not just us restaurants. Everybody has some extra challenges with this post-pandemic economy.
Q: What kinds of trends have you been noticing with your customers?
Well, we have a Market Hour out here at The Grand from three to six p.m. with half-priced pizzas and such and it’s actually getting busier and busier. I think people are trying to save money and they’re changing their schedules to come in during Market Hours instead of dinner. They’re using that and the happy hours. I don’t blame them.
Q: What kinds of positives have come out of this that people might not expect?
A: This has nothing to do with the pandemic, but one positive thing that’s coming is the Market Realm Plan. That’s in the planning stage right now, but it’s slated to start sometime next year; we’re thinking next spring. That’s a really positive thing. It’s really aimed at beautifying the Market. That’s something we’re all looking for, some real focus on the ByWard Market. We haven’t seen any investment down here. We’ve seen private investment, but no investment from the city. And, finally, we’re seeing some investment coming in after decades. That’s the most positive thing going on these days in the Market.
Q: What are you expecting out of the holiday season?
A: Christmas parties are looking good. We’ve got a few more parties this year than last year, which is always a good thing. There isn’t very much good news out there regarding retail for Christmas, but we’re expecting a pretty good season.
Q: What’s driving you to continue your work despite all the challenges?
A: I love the ByWard Market. You know, the Market gets a lot of bad press, but when you’re down here every day and you walk around, it’s a beautiful place. The good thing is, it’s getting some attention and it’s just going to get better. I think the narrative has to change on the ByWard Market, especially from the media. We need to look at the positive side. It’s a beautiful day, people are walking around, restaurants are open and people are selling stuff. It’s a very interesting place and it’s the epicentre of the city. If the Market isn’t doing well, the city isn’t doing well. It brings a lot to the city.