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Opening a restaurant in Ottawa: How to cut through the red tape

Are you an aspiring restaurateur, hoping to open the next foodie haven in Ottawa’s emerging restaurant scene?

If you plan to open your own restaurant, bakery or café – or purchase an existing establishment – navigating the labyrinth of required permits, licenses and bylaw obligations can be confusing.

Thankfully, the City of Ottawa offers a Business Ambassador Service to assist entrepreneurs in untangling the web. Through this service, the city created a Business Information Officer (BIO), helpfully providing a single point of contact for small businesses looking to get their enterprise started.

The BIO can help you:

  • Identify required licenses and permits;
  • Apply for applicable licenses and permits;
  • Estimate time and costs;
  • Create a customized roadmap to suit your needs; and
  • Connect with the appropriate departments throughout the process

This BIO acts as a case manager, which creates a relationship between the city and business owners to provide more direction and guidance for those looking to navigate the often disorienting licensing and permit landscape. There is no fee for entrepreneurs to use this service.

At present, the BIO currently only offers this service for the restaurant industry, however it will be expanding to other areas in the near future.

The Business Ambassador Service helpfully offers what is known as the Restaurant Application Bundle to aspiring restaurateurs. If you are starting a new restaurant or purchasing an existing one, the Business Ambassador Service provides a helpful package of services required for restaurant startups, including:

  1. Food Premises Business License: Food premises of any kind within the City of Ottawa require a municipal business license. To apply, submit the application form, proof of ownership or lease, proof of insurance (minimum $1,000,000), fire services inspection and a $255 fee. 
  2. Construction Permit: The Ontario Building Code requires that all property owners obtain a building permit prior to beginning construction, including renovating or demolishing all or part of an existing building. If you are renovating an existing building and are adding no new gross floor area, it will cost you approximately $8.14 for every $1,000 of the project’s overall cost to obtain a permit. Along with your application form, you will also be required to submit construction or building plans, drafted by an accredited professional.
  3. Food Premises Health Review Application: There is no fee to process this application. Along with the application form, you must include three copies of your food premises facility plan (kitchen, equipment list, seating area) and a copy of your menu.
  4. Permanent Sign Permit (if required): This permit is only required if you are planning to erect a permanent sign on your premises. If so, the application form, a $374 fee, elevation drawings, two copies of the site plan, installation and construction details and photos of the site are required. 
  5. Liquor License Supporting Documents (if required): This application requires some information from the municipality, which the City of Ottawa can provide. First, a Municipal Information Form (MIF) must be provided. There is no fee for this form. Second, three separate Agency Letters of Approval must be provided: Building Code Services ($401 plus HST), Ottawa Fire Services ($113) and Ottawa Public Health (no fee). Third, an Ottawa Fire Service inspection, an Ottawa Public Health Food Services inspection, Building Code inspection, and a floor (seating) plan and site plan must be submitted with the above.

This helpful bundle is a great resource for restaurant startups looking to simplify the permit, bylaw and licensing process when starting a new business. Keep in mind, however, that this package is not exhaustive, as some additional permits, such as a Patio Permit or Café Seating Permit, may be required if you are planning on using outdoor space for seating.

If ever you find yourself uncertain of the process, do not forget that you can always contact the Business Information Officer at the city to help you get back on track. 

And remember: although the Business Ambassador Service is currently geared towards the restaurant industry, keep an eye on the program as it expands into other areas in the future. Within the restaurant sphere, plans to extend the Business Ambassador Service to include food trucks have gone to City Council for approval.

More information regarding this helpful (and free) resource can be found at: Beats paying lawyers.

Now, we eat!

Kyle Stout is an associate lawyer in the Business Law Group at Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP. His practice is focused on commercial litigation and all aspects of corporate, business and ancillary issues, including incorporations, corporate re-organizations, and mergers and acquisitions.