After being closed to dine-in customers for over three months, restaurants in northeast Winnipeg welcomed customers back in time for Valentine’s Day.
On Feb. 13, public health orders were changed to allow for restaurants to open at a maximum of 25 per cent capacity, provided diners arrived with other members of their households only.
"This weekend was phenomenal," Danny Van Lancker, co-owner of Rae’s Bistro & Lounge (9-925 Headmaster Row), told The Herald following the Louis Riel Day long weekend. "It was a like a greatest hits of all our favourite regulars."
During the lockdown, Rae’s Bistro pivoted back to a takeout only with relative ease, having developed a solid business plan when they were first forced to close their doors owing to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.
"We knew what to do, what worked with regard to marketing," Van Lancker said. "It wasn’t new or foreign to us."
Van Lancker credits the community for supporting the restaurant throughout the pandemic.
Re–opening isn’t something we take lightly.
"At the end of the day, it was our regulars," he said. "You can buy food anywhere, but they care about us."
The support continued once the doors re-opened on Feb. 13.
"Everyone was so happy to see us open, and for our servers," he said, adding that even at 25 per cent capacity, the restaurant broke a sales record set on Feb. 14, 2020.
The Elm Pizzeria & Cafe, located at 163 Henderson Hwy., opened its doors in December 2020, right in the middle of the public health order prohibiting dining in.
Owner and chef Elman Montoya welcomed guests to enjoy their pizzas at the tables within The Elm for the first time on Feb. 13.
However, Montoya noted that most parties continued to order food for takeout. Of those who chose to dine in, he said there were a few parties who could not provide proof that they resided in the same residence, and so were asked to leave.
In the lead up to re-opening, Van Lancker said the hardest part was not knowing when dining would be allowed to resume.
"We had no communication from the government in that regard," he said. "It takes time to ramp up, and marketing are completely different for dine-in and takeout."
Despite the limited dining capacity, Van Lancker said he and co-owner Jillian Flynn are happy to see the government take a slow and steady approach to re-opening this time around.
"Re-opening isn’t something we take lightly," Van Lancker said. "I don’t want to close and re-open again. It costs too much. You spend so much time and money ramping up and redoing everything all over again. Let’s just take this slow."
The Herald community journalist
Sheldon Birnie is the reporter/photographer for The Herald. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112