Ottawa restaurants are teaming up with a local events and communications firm and valet parking company to come to the aid of popular eating establishments left financially crippled by the coronavirus outbreak.
A new food delivery service, Love Local Delivery, has expanded since it's initial launch, late last week, from eight to 18 downtown-area restaurants. The updated list includes: Baccanelle in Vanier; Ola Cocina Taqueria, Das Lokal, BiBi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen and Fraser Cafe, all located in the New Edinburgh and ByWard Market area; Gray Jay, Pascale's All Natural Ice Cream, BUCHIPOP, La Roma in West Centretown; Grunt and Heartbreakers Pizza in the Wellington West and Hintonburg neighbourhoods; and Centretown’s North & Navy, Town and PIRHO Grill, Oat Couture Oatmeal Cafe and Orto Trattoria in the Glebe; Pelican Seafood and Patty's Pub in the Bank Street South area.
The independently owned restaurants are offering ready-to-eat meals; heat and serve-prepared meals; and/or meal kits with instructions on how to finish or prepare at home.
“We’re just happy to be able to help,” explained Karen Wood, owner and president of Knock on Wood Communications + Events, which is handling for free the publicity for the new food delivery service. “We love these restaurants. They’re these little neighbourhood gems and this (coronavirus shutdown) is devastating for them.”
Responsible Choice is known for providing valet services at special events and helping party-goers to get home safely. Owner Darren Burrowes has offered to pay his drivers to do food pickup and dropoffs within a five-kilometre radius of the selected restaurant for a cost-recovery fee of $5. Curbside pickup is also available.
As well, the new logo for Love Local Delivery has been designed without cost by Lissa Constantine, owner of BirdDog Design.
Last Saturday, Wood was part of a brainstorming session held to deal with a fast-deteriorating situation facing the restaurant industry. She met with Ola Cocina owner and chef Donna Chevrier, Das Lokal executive chef Harriet Clunie, and Robin Duetta, who’s very plugged into Ottawa's culinary community.
The group came up with the idea of running its own affordable food delivery service, recognizing that the Uber Eats model made it impossible for now-vacant restaurants to turn a proper profit. The thinking was that people still wanted to eat restaurant-quality food, even if they could no longer enjoy the meals at their neighbourhood hotspots.
By Monday, Ontario’s medical officer of health was calling for all restaurants and bars to close, with the exception of takeout and delivery service, in order to curb the spread of the virus.
“People are sort of locked up in their houses and not everybody is adept at cooking, nor do they want to do it seven nights a week,” explained Clunie, who is eager to see Das Lokal stay open. “Small businesses are struggling right now and this restaurant is so sweet and special that we want to keep it going, if we can.”
Clunie knows how hard it is to run a business. She previously left Das Lokal to take over Beechwood Gastropub but had to close less than two years later.
“I know how much you have to work just to keep the doors open when everything is normal, never mind having a pandemic.
“We’re really just going to give it the college try and see if it takes off,” she said of the Love Local Delivery chef-prepared meals. “If it does, that’s great. If it doesn’t, we’ll just close like everybody else, but we just felt like we needed to try. That’s all we can do.”
The coronavirus marks the second big blow suffered by Ola Cocina, located in Vanier. It faced closure last fall after being badly burglarized and vandalized. Fortunately, the community came to its rescue by raising $20,000 through a GoFundMe campaign, allowing for Chevrier to carry on.
Chevrier says she’s refusing to wallow in self-pity over her bad luck, recognizing that most people in the restaurant industry are in the same boat. When a business isn't making money, there's a huge ripple effect on staff wages, rent, utility bills and suppliers, she added.
“I’m not going to feel sorry for myself,” said Chevrier in an interview on Thursday. “I did that for 24 hours and then I moved on. I don’t quit, and now is not the time to quit, either."
Chevrier said she had no choice but to lay off her staff, temporarily. She would prefer to continue working as long as possible, rather than close up and possibly rely on government aid. In short, she added: “I’m a worker.”
There is government support money being made available to help small businesses and their employees, but there are drawbacks to shutting down operations, said Duetta, who works closely with the culinary community to produce such charity events as the Grinch Dinner and Taste for Hope, that help the poor, vulnerable and homeless men and women at the Shepherds of Good Hope.
“Your customers are going to go somewhere else,” said Duetta. “Just as much as it’s about survival for the restaurants, it’s also about relationship-management and taking care of the people that you take care of every day.”
Duetta said he remains hopeful the restaurants will weather the coronavirus storm. “It’s a resilient community. Watching them try and make it work is inspiring. They’re the toughest group I know."
For years, the culinary community has been helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities, Duetta pointed out. "The hospitality community needs our help today, and what a great way to show our support."