PANDEMIC PIVOT: Patio lanterns a winter fixture for some Toronto restaurants

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Their first lockdown comedy night happened Thursday on their new heated patio.

It’s something novel to push back against the difficult times of another winter lockdown.

“It was great,” Dan Guiry, manager of Blackjack BBQ on Gerrard St. E., said Friday of the sold-out event. “It was a lot of fun — great comedians.”

He has worked at the restaurant for four years. The last two have been grim.

During the first lockdown, he would see only a couple of takeout orders each hour.

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“I’ve had servers who are crying because they don’t know how they’re going to make rent,” he said of the latest ban on indoor dining. “They’re thinking ‘You’re going to lay me off.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not going to lay you off. We are going to get a tent and we are going to persevere.’”

That is what they’ve set out to do with the help of a heated and covered patio, and three delivery services to drive takeout business.

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“If we didn’t have this and takeout, we would be shut down,” Guiry said. “It would be gone.”

Similarly, the owners of Bar Neon on Bloor St. W. had an emergency staff meeting in December to discuss one question: What if Ontario does go into a lockdown?

“This is actually an outgrowth of the summer patio,” Marnie Brandejs, the bar’s events co-ordinator, said of their winter setup.

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Bar Neon’s events coordinator Marnie Brandejs.
Bar Neon’s events coordinator Marnie Brandejs. Photo by Supplied

Two affiliated Cafe Neon locations also shifted to offering takeout and even groceries.

Brandejs said the owners “had the forethought to think we need to expand this patio and we need to do it now.”

“We’re very lucky that we have the space to do this because I know a lot of restaurants don’t have the capacity to do this,” she added.

In November, Toronto city council made the CafeTO sidewalk patio program a permanent fixture for local businesses.

The outdoor patio at Bar Neon on Bloor St. W.
The outdoor patio at Bar Neon on Bloor St. W. Photo by Supplied

Brandejs said CafeTO will not be alone as an indefinite necessity, even beyond the pandemic.

“I think everything that we are seeing from all of the businesses across the city is going to be permanent in some form,” she said, “because right now we are seeing closures left, right and centre.”

Back at Blackjack BBQ, Guiry is hoping this first weekend of renewed restrictions continues with momentum, even through a chilly January.

“The entire arts and restaurant community has just been rocked,” he said. “If you don’t have a patio to invest in and set up, you’re not going to make it.”


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