When Ontario moves into Step 3 of the provincial government’s re-opening plan Friday, some local restaurants will re-open for the first time in months.
Bayside Restaurant, located in the Barnfield Point Recreation Centre, is set to re-open for the first time in well over a year.
Eli Bilissis, who has owned the restaurant for 20 years, is relieved to be back in business.
“We are very excited, so is my staff, they were going crazy while we were completely shut down for 15 months,” he said.
“This last year has been very stressful because we were just hanging off the edge of a cliff. It’s the worst nightmare I’ve had in my entire life.”
Bilissis kept his restaurant closed during the pandemic and chose not to re-open during limited capacity periods. He also did not operate for take-out, and the restaurant doesn’t have a patio.
“Before, when we were restricted to 25 percent capacity, it wasn’t worth my time to keep it open. It would have cost me more than what I would have brought in,” he explained.
But now that the restaurant can open at 100 percent capacity, Bilissis expects there to be a high demand from customers.
“I’ve had a lot of calls from regular customers who want to know when we are opening, they are very excited,” he said.
Bilissis is thankful to still be in business after being shut down for more than a year.
“I had a little bit of money saved from previous years which helped save us, but it wasn’t easy. It was very hard,” he said.
The challenges of operating a restaurant are far from over Bilissis says. He is working hard to open his restaurant on the fly while being understaffed.
“Some of my staff have moved on with their lives, some aren’t coming back which is going to be a real challenge,” he explained.
“The government is still paying CERB for certain people so why should they go to work? There is a shortage of staff, and you can’t get anyone to come in and apply.”
Bilissis is hopeful that lockdowns are over.
“Hopefully we are near the end of COVID-19. We can’t afford another wave because it would make it very difficult for myself and a lot of other businesses to re-open again,” he said.
Lake Country Grill on West Street North is another restaurant that, without a patio, has suffered.
Owner Diana Roman says being back open on Friday will bring her, her staff, and customers a sense of joy and normalcy.
“We can’t wait, and our customers are excited, too,” she said.
“Some are calling to make reservations which is great. We are happy to see how much they missed us.”
Roman expects her restaurant to be busy when the doors open on Friday.
“I think people missed sitting down with their friends and enjoying a nice meal, having a drink, and connecting. So, we think people will be chomping at the bit to come to our restaurant,” she said.
While the demand may be high, Roman reminds customers to be patient with restaurant staff for the first couple of weeks.
“It’s really hard to go from slow to go, wait times maybe a little longer, so we might need a little patience,” she said.
“We will get there, but it’s not going to be like before right away.”
Lake Country Grill was able to survive the pandemic by using delivery services like DoorDash, SkipTheDishes, and Uber Eats. However, that wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat.
“We had to cut hours, days we were open, and we cut down on staff we couldn’t afford. We’ve had to do a lot of things,” Roman said.
Staffing is also an issue at Lake Country Grill.
“We’ve lost staff, people are doing other jobs now because they’ve gotten frustrated,” Roman said. “I’ve literally been interviewing people for the past week, and we are hiring them and training them so we can get up to speed.”
Roman is also having problems with food suppliers either being low on stock or jacking up the prices.
“There are things I can’t get like nice turkey meat. The food suppliers are sending me garbage turkey and they are telling me that soon it will get worse. Soon I won’t have any turkey,” she said.
“The price of certain things has doubled or tripled. I haven’t been able to get proper ribs that we serve for four weeks. I’m frustrated and I’m panicking, there are a lot of challenges still.”
George’s Country Style Restaurant on Colborne Street West hasn’t been open since March of 2019. The family restaurant, which doesn't have a patio, has been temporarily out of business since April of this year when the province enacted a stay-at-home order.
Owner Gus Diamantakos is working hard to prepare the restaurant for re-opening.
“We’ve missed the people who have been coming here for years. We are excited to bring them back in to enjoy the same product that they are used to,” he said.
Instead of opening this Friday, Diamantakos says his restaurant will open next Friday, July 23.
“We want to be ready and stress-free when we open. Also, we really weren’t prepared to open this week because the Minister of Health said Step 3 of reopening would not be sped up and they would wait for the 21-days,” he explained.
“We have nothing. Our coolers are empty and we don’t want to have people come in if we are out of certain things. We will wait an extra week to make sure everything goes smooth.”
Diamantakos says it’s a big relief to be able to reopen.
“It’s awesome, it keeps our staff working as well because we are going to need all hands on deck. It makes things a little easier for us and it will make our restaurant flow a little better,” he said.
Diamantakos expects there to be a heavy demand of customers waiting to come inside.
“We don’t expect to skip a beat, and we think we will see not only lots of local people but also tourists,” he said, adding he feels fortunate the business survived.
“We are fortunate enough to own the building, and my staff is all coming back. We’ve been here for so long, some of my staff have been here for 27 years. I’ve been here for 38, so we are just trying to keep ourselves afloat,” he said.
“It’s still tough will all the bills coming in, hydro, gas, and whatnot. But fortunately, we’ve made it through.”
There remain challenges ahead.
“We have to recoup what we’ve put out of pocket to keep the place going when it was closed, and it’s going to take a lot of time,” he said, adding prices
“I’m seeing products that I used to pay $26 for that are now $39, it’s a big increase. So, we might have to raise our prices a bit.”
Diamantakos encourages all his regulars to keep supporting the restaurant during the pandemic.
“We’re going to need support not only here at the beginning, but we will need it to carry on,” he said.