New Toronto restaurants hope Summerlicious will attract customers after 2-year hiatus
For the first time since the pandemic began, Summerlicious is back.
The return of the discounted three-course lunch and dinner program is a relief for many hard-hit restaurants in Toronto, especially those that have opened in the past two years.
“We need to turn this business, in this place, into a destination,” said Boaz Rachamin, who launched Eisenbergs Sandwiches last summer on Dufferin Street north of Finch Avenue West in North York.
“We have no choice, otherwise we won’t be here very long.”
Rachamin signed up for the first time this year, hoping Summerlicious would attract customers who might not know his restaurant exists after two years of slow business and the recent hurdle of rising inflation. And according to the City of Toronto, it’s not alone — more than 40% of the 200 restaurants registered for the event are taking part for the first time in August. A full list of participating restaurants is available on the city’s website.
“It’s about letting people come in and see what we offer,” Rachamin said.
“I think once people open the door and see what we’re doing here, they’re going to be blown away.”
Pass customers through the door
The program has been renewed to help restaurants recover and generate revenue, and encourage residents and tourists to rediscover Toronto, a city statement said.
“I encourage Toronto residents to eat locally and support our restaurants,” said Mayor John Tory.
About 13,000 Canadian restaurants have permanently closed since the pandemic hit, says Restaurants Canada, a nonprofit that represents the restaurant industry across the country.
This year, Summerlicious runs from August 12-28. While participating restaurants have dedicated menus during this time, some like the Lobster Burger Bar have added other dishes to their normal selection.
But that’s not all the restaurant is doing to attract customers – especially those who have spent the past two years caring for their pandemic pets.
“We’re hoping to bring people in for Summerlicious with their dogs,” says Lobster Burger Bar manager Chris Chan.
Chan says the restaurant has young talent who are always looking to try something new. After a “challenging few years” since launching around January 2020, he says adapting to changing times is part of what attracts customers.
“We started it during COVID after realizing a lot of people were staying home with their dogs all the time and they were dealing with anxiety,” Chan said.
Represent the east side
Other restaurateurs, like Trevor David of the Art of BBQ Smokehouse and Bar in Scarborough, hope their participation not only brings more locals through their doors, but encourages people from across the GTA and beyond to take note of it.
“We have great food here in Scarborough, and it’s worth driving from anywhere in the GTA to come to Scarborough and try what we do,” David said.
David launched his restaurant on Kingston Road near Midland Avenue just as the pandemic hit. He credits the community support for keeping the business afloat and hopes the summer event will grow it even further.
“We want to create and make it a place, a little haven where people from everywhere can come in and feel at home,” he said.
The last time Summerlicious took place was in 2019, and only two Scarborough restaurants signed up. This year, that number is five.
“If it’s successful, maybe it will encourage others in Scarborough to participate next time,” David said.