Downtown Dining Week: so nice, they’re having it twice
by Brittany Ekelund
“New customer chaos.”
Every year in March, the 12-day culinary event, organized by the Downtown Business Association (DBA), showcases what the capital city’s downtown core has to offer to epicurious Edmontonians.
With affordable set menus, it’s a chance for local restaurants to increase sales, gain exposure and attract new customers. It’s a chance that many need now more than ever.
Kazeil, and the DBA, are hoping that the reappearance of DTDW this Oct. 28 to Nov. 8 will be the boost that an ailing industry so desperately needs.
“It’s a pandemic, and we definitely have to be cautious of that and respectful. But, at the end of the day, we still want to keep our businesses open which means we can’t do nothing,” said Kazeil. “We need initiatives to get butts in seats and to get people to come out.”
March of 2020 saw this year’s first run at the food-fest cut short when government mandates closed dining rooms across the province. Many restaurants shut down entirely; some never opened again.
Those who have are doing so at a loss. Rising food prices, limited capacity and a timid customer base continue to threaten an industry with famously thin profit margins at the best of times. For downtown businesses, like The Common, people working from home means lunch and happy hour regulars have all but dried up.
Not content to sit idly by while their community struggled, the DBA sprung into action. DTDW would be the drink of water for an industry parched by the pandemic.
“Our restaurant industry has been disproportionately affected in so many ways by COVID-19, so they’re in need of a lift and we’re here to help them get through these tricky times,” said Nick Lilley, interim executive director of the DBA.
Lilley said a long warm summer helped get people out of the house. The DBA helped with live music and patio events across the downtown core. But, unlike a seemingly endless pandemic, summer doesn’t last forever. The DBA thought DTDW would be just the right event to help move people inside. When they approached local restaurants, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We were for it 100 per cent,” said Kazeil. “We don’t have the same expectations, but if it even just increases our revenue just a little bit and the awareness of our restaurant, then, right now that’s all you can really ask for right?”
Head chef Felicia Winston is also excited at the idea of increasing business. Since reopening the dining room at River City Revival House, located in the historic Old Citadel building in downtown Edmonton, she’s had to cut costs, cut staff, and cut hours. She knows the event can’t, and won’t, be as busy; but anything helps right now – especially with their patio closing last week.
“It was amazing for the business the first year we did it, we were running out of food every day, we were turning customers away, we were full with reservations. It was extremely busy,” said Winston, whose reservation book was ominously sparse the night before the launch. “We’ll just kind of see whether or not it turns into a large event this year.”
Winston says safety was number one when reopening River City Reviavl, but for those who prefer to stay home, she will be one of many offering takeout and curbside options this year, letting you enjoy fun River City favorites like the Notorious P.I.G from the comfort of your couch.
Winston hopes, like Lilley and the DBA, that the flexibility of take-out options will let wary diners enjoy the event from afar.
“We really wanted to make this a testament to what the community can do when it comes together in support of our businesses, while keeping in mind that this is a very trying circumstance and one that we need to be very diligent in our efforts to share a safe engaging experience,” said Lilley.
And don’t worry if you’re not quite ready to put yourself back out there yet – Lilley says that he fully expects the event to take place again in March of 2021.
“It is a tradition that people have come to expect, and anything we can do to support our downtown restaurant industry in particular, is usually a great benefit to the community as a whole.”