Launching a restaurant is tough enough; imagine doing it during a pandemic.
By Steven Sandor | March 2, 2021
The restaurant space has high ceilings, with picture windows opening to urban views of Rice Howard Way. Dalla Tavola Zenari’s menu is filled with pasta, crostoni, salad and Italian entree selections; it’s a spot for a bright business lunch, after-work wine and snacks, or a full-on dinner.
The restaurant opened in the Enbridge Centre, better known as the Kelly Ramsey Building, in early December, but, for Elisa Zenari and her husband Ran Huget, it represents the culmination of a plan that was first hatched in 2018, when the decision was made not to renew the lease on the Zenari’s location in Manulife Place.
“The planning had already begun when we were still at Manulife Place,” says Zenari. “You can plan for a lot of things, but what you don’t plan on is a global pandemic.”
Zenari says that John Day and Kevin McKee, the developers who leased the new space to them, were understanding — Zenari and Huget didn’t start paying rent until the restaurant opened. During the “fixturing process,” which was extended by many COVID-caused delays, they could focus on getting the restaurant open without the lease kicking in.
The plan was to open in the spring of 2020, but construction and permit delays pushed the schedule back by nine months. “The way the lease was handled was really great for us, we had a lot of support,” says Zenari. “Honestly, it’s a big reason that we were able to open. We are just the little guy. We don’t have deep pockets to pull from.”
As well, they were able to get some help through the federal government’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, which has the ability to give aid to start-ups, unlike some of the other aid agencies.
And, while Zenari was enthused by the amount of people who came through the doors in December, she admits that the grand opening was performed under the spectre of “crisis management.” As they were welcoming guests, they were prepping for another possible lockdown.
Instead of making large, bulk orders of food, they pared down their orders and managed the kitchen in a more day-to-day manner. So, if a lockdown came, they wouldn’t be stuck with a massive food inventory. Zenari says that many of the suppliers have changed their minimum-order requirements, allowing the restaurants to order less.
There were more subtle changes to the plan, too. The plan was to have beautiful, bound menus, trattoria style. But, with COVID came the need for disposable items, so one-sheet paper menus were printed out, instead.
“What we’ll need is support from our city,” she says. “A lot of restaurants are small, independent businesses.”