Remember those rosy summer days of yesteryear, where we went out to eat with friends and family on a patio, only to arrive and find the patio full? Remember thinking, “Oh, well. We can always eat inside”? If you’re having a hard time picturing those days, don’t worry—they’re a vague memory for us, too. We are all well aware by now that COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we play, shop and dine out. But there are always silver linings and unexpected triumphs to be found in any unfortunate circumstance. With summer in full swing, we think it’s a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on one legacy that we never anticipated coming out of these unprecedented times: the explosion of awesome patios here in YDH.
For several long stretches throughout the past two years, outdoor dining has been the only option for our restaurants, bars and eateries to accommodate their valued guests. These businesses have had to adapt to provincial and federal restrictions and guidelines in order to remain open, and to weather the storm that this pandemic has brought with it. As a result, patios here in York Durham Headwaters, and indeed around all of Ontario, have expanded and improved. They now offer more seating options, and in many instances have been weather-proofed so hungry diners can enjoy their meals even if it is raining.
Many more restaurants have incorporated space heaters and other insulating features to extend their patio season. Diners at these establishments can now eat outdoors earlier in the spring, later in the fall, and sometimes all year round. It’s an unexpected turn of events, but one from which we’re all perfectly happy to benefit. Our businesses have been faced with a host of challenges that they’ve had to overcome; the patio is a wonderful example of how they’ve pulled together to adapt and thrive.
One such business that has had to adjust to these changes is The Second Wedge Brewing Company in Uxbridge. Throughout most of the pandemic, they were unable to serve draft beer to customers onsite as they always have. They were also unable to sell to bars and restaurants, which were likewise shut down at times. In 2020, the few summer months when the brewery could open its outdoor beer garden made a significant contribution to Second Wedge’s revenue. This positive step, however, brought a new set of challenges that were nearly impossible to predict given all of the unknowns at the time. “We couldn’t accommodate all the people who wanted to come and sit,” recalls co-owner Joanne Richter. “We had lineups all the time. Not to mention the fact that, although we had temporarily increased the size of our beer garden and added seating, it was mostly chairs we’d borrowed from the Uxbridge Farmer’s Market.”
In Richmond Hill, the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel faced a similar set of challenges. Sean Metcalfe, Director of Sales and Marketing for the property, explains, “With COVID-19 still very much active, we felt the need to plan ahead and ensure we had an outdoor dining option for our guests to safely enjoy a meal with us. Last year we were not sure how long [the pandemic] would last, so our patio was ‘improvised,’ which provided a short-term solution.”
Emphasis on short-term! It was clear to everyone that moving in extra chairs and putting up temporary gates was not going to please the hungry crowds for long. Once outdoor dining became an option again, people were desperate for the culinary experiences they knew and loved before the pandemic, and businesses had to find a way to satisfy their patrons’ desires. Recognizing that things would not go back to its pre-COVID state for a long time, the team at Second Wedge understood that they would need to “make hay while the sun shone” (as Joanne says), and invest in some permanent solutions. Today, they couldn’t be happier with the results of their teamwork.
“The new space is fantastic,” she states enthusiastically. “We had new tables, privacy screens and chairs built by local woodworker Jeff Baker, which nearly doubles our distanced seating and basically created a second outdoor room for us alongside our original beer garden. Jeff even took some of the bourbon barrels we’d used for beer aging and turned them into incredibly beautiful and comfortable seating.” Of course, there is still the occasional lineup since Second Wedge is quite a unique and popular destination, but the team is now able to seat many more happy customers, all at safe distances.
Sheraton Parkway, too, put plans in motion to create a fresh new outdoor space that would meet the standard of service and ambience its visitors were accustomed to. “Guests no longer need to leave the hotel for the outdoor dining experience,” Sean says. “We’ve received very positive feedback for that. We also launched Oasis Patio Bar + Grill, where we were able to completely change the overall vibe.” As a result, food and beverage sales have been up almost 50%… even with the rainy summer we’ve been having. The hotel credits this happy phenomenon with people wanting to stay longer and enjoy the refreshed atmosphere.
While it is true that the pandemic has altered our lives and our social experiences, we can’t stress enough how many new opportunities it has also revealed. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. Sean Metcalfe and his team at Sheraton Parkway Toronto North are immensely pleased at what they have accomplished. “It makes me proud to be able to enhance our offerings, which will lead to more guests visiting our hotel,” he says. “It was a lot of work to put the concept together, especially with the lumber and other material shortages. But the end result was worth the effort.”
Joanne at Second Wedge adds, “One thing we learned during this pandemic is that, as a company, we’re nimble, and can adjust to all kinds of surprises. It’s tough to face constant change and loss of business, but we’re a strong team with a lot of creativity and energy among us. We’re proud that we’ve been able to find new ways to stay vibrant for our customers.”
Well said, Joanne and Sean! We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. And we’re willing to bet that these wonderful changes to our dining patio landscape are here to stay. These improved, permanent patios are simply too awesome to be rolled up and packed away when the day comes that life returns to normal (whatever “normal” may look like in a post-pandemic world). It is a true testament to the passion which our local businesses have for what they do.
Many legacies are (and will become) the result of COVID-19. The legacy of our patios here in York Durham Headwaters is one which illuminates our people’s ingenuity, vision, drive and determination. Get out there and see what we’re talking about. Explore YDH’s awesome patios this summer!
Second Wedge Brewing Company
14 Victoria St., Uxbridge
Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel
600 Highway 7, Richmond Hill
Story by Katherine Ryalen