Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features Business and Operations
From the Editor: Time for a bold move?


August 6, 2020
By Colleen Cross


Topics
Concept drawing: @mustardandrelishburger · Burger Restaurant

Pizzeria operators and their teams are a pretty positive bunch. When faced with an obstacle, they seem to persevere, find a workaround or make the best of a bad situation.

Often that means reaching out to others less fortunate. That’s the social power of restaurants and, as we’ve seen this spring during the grimmest shutdowns, pizzerias have been good at keeping their regular customers in the loop. It shows you don’t necessarily need four walls to bring a community together.

When pizzeria dining rooms were shut down, many of you made the most of the down time by doing deep cleaning, re-arranging your space to meet social distancing requirements or, where possible, doing renovations that were previously on the back burner.

This is getting on with it, or seizing the day. Not to sound like a Pollyanna, but there sometimes there are unexpected consequences to even the worst of situations and we witness the resilience of human nature.

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Other operators acted quickly to change their operation’s focus or streamline their menu to reduce food waste and help with the back-of-house flow.

We’ve seen some pretty major changes happening out there. One that happened locally in the small resort town of Port Dover, Ont., took our breath away with its 360-degree boldness. It was a brave, but inspired, move.

But the pandemic has forced operators to be smart, flexible and think long term.

Opening a restaurant amid coronavirus may seem crazy but it’s a thing. And when you correctly read the mood of the community – staycationers and vacationers longing for excitement but also craving comfort food – it could be a very good thing. Ryan and Jennifer Rivard, owners of well-established restaurant The Combine, already having done a huge pivot from dine-in only to porchside pickup, decided to do themselves one better and convert their newer Italian restaurant, Lago Trattoria into a burger joint. Mustard + Relish opened last week and were welcomed by people tired of cooking, looking for something new, needing something affordable and craving comfort food.

The walk-up restaurant makes its featured and build-your-own burgers with locally sourced protein with names like “The Cow,” “The Hog,” “The Bison” and “The Garden” (featuring their “Know Meat” patty) and served with “hand-punched, double-dropped french fries.” They are partnering with local makers gourmet popsicle makers Beach Day Pops, who use local fruit and honey and sport the classic tagline: “Beach Day Pops – This summer doesn’t have to suck.”

As Ryan Rivard described the thought process for the huge change to local newspaper the Simcoe Reformer:

“I knew that Lago itself was not going to be a viable option post-COVID. . . . I knew instinctively that no one was going to be buying spaghetti and meatballs to go sit in Powell Park in the middle of the summer.”

Another key factor was the cancellation of the summer theatre season, normally a big draw for Lago.

Rivard added, “I had two choices. One was to close the doors and walk away. And the other was to continue to fight and to continue to try to make this work.”

Time will tell how the gamble goes, but there is excitement about the new spot and, five days in, they are selling out early.

We are not suggesting you close your Italian restaurant and open a burger joint. Taking a risk like the Rivards have taken is not for everyone. You have to be practical, you have to be realistic, you have to do the math.

But the pandemic has forced operators to be smart, flexible and think long term.

If you’ve got fight left in you, it may be time to unleash it. Is there a change you’ve been thinking about making to your operation or menu? Is there a partner you’ve been thinking of working with? If you’ve run the numbers, listened to trusted advice and your gut is telling you to make a bold move, maybe it’s time to get off the fence.