Update: Ottawa’s Fresco Bistro Italiano, The Guest Room closing on Elgin Street

Fresco Bistro Italiano’s Elgin Street location, as well as its adjoining cocktail lounge The Guest Room, are both closing on Thursday.

Jim Bickford, who co-owned the restaurant and lounge with his brother Matt, says they sold the lease to the space along with some equipment to a Toronto-based franchise.

He told OBJ in an interview that the decision to sell wasn’t an easy one, but that ultimately the restaurant ended on a positive note.

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“It is really hard to give up that great space, and all of the great customers that we had, we just made the decision that enough was enough and it was time to change,” Mr. Bickford says. “Not many restaurants end successfully, so we were happy about that.”

The impending closure was announced Tuesday on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The restaurant’s Kanata location on Hazeldean Road shut its doors for good on Jan. 1.

“As much as it pains us to give up this amazing location and all the good times had within these walls … the time has come,” the post read.

Fresco Bistro Italiano was established in 1991. The Bickford brothers took over the restaurant on Elgin between Waverly Street and Frank Street in 2005 and opened the Kanata location four years ago.

An increase in rent about a year and a half ago brought the longevity of the business into question.

The Elgin Street location was staffed by eight full-time kitchen and wait staff, all of whom will be laid off. Mr. Bickford, a hands-on operator, says he was fortunate as a small restaurant to have great staff over the years.

News of the closure brought on an outpouring of sadness from former diners. Dozens commented on the Facebook post expressing their disappointment and reflecting on their memories at both the bistro and cocktail lounge.

The decision to sell was a sentimental one for Mr. Bickford, who had worked as a waiter at the restaurant for a few years before acquiring it. He recalls one family who had been regulars of his for the past 15 years.

“They still come in every week. I’ve watched their daughter grow from a newborn baby that I used to hold while they would eat, walking around serving tables with her, and now she’s 16 years old and comes in with her parents, still, every week,” he says.

After more than a decade as an owner, Mr. Bickford will remember Fresco Bistro as a place of romance, recalling former employees who met while working and left engaged, and customers who had first dates in the restaurant and would return for anniversary dinners.

“There are so many examples of that. It’s endless, it’s almost been a theme there.”

Mr. Bickford says declining business wasn’t a driving factor in selling, but that restaurateurs around the city are feeling the pinch.

“We’ve seen some shrinking (margins) and I think that’s across the board. Every operator is feeling it.”

The decision to close the Kanata location was more financially driven, as Mr. Bickford says the variables “just didn’t add up” to success.

“We gave it all we had over those four years, and in the end, we had to close the doors,” he says.

These closures are the latest in what has been a bad year for the stretch of Elgin Street on either side of Waverly Street.

Maxwell’s, just down the road, ended its three-decade run slightly more than a year ago and has since been replaced by Pure Kitchen. Nearby Boushey’s Fruit Market, a family-run operation since 1946, also closed down this summer after 70 years in business.

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