We’ll see you in there.
Connect to customize your food & drink discovery.
It is a gross understatement to say that the restaurant industry has been negatively affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. TasteToronto wants to get the inside scoop and perspectives of local restaurant and bar owners who have been affected by the pandemic. We had the opportunity to interview Alfred Siu, owner of Project Gigglewater a popular bar in the city's west end neighbourhood of Little Portugal. In the last 8 months restaurants have been forced to shut their doors, close, reopen, relieve staff of their jobs, and pay incredibly high taxes and fees to landlords despite the drastic decrease in customers coming to their restaurants and bars. The restaurant industry fuels the culture, vibrancy and economy of cities around the globe, including Toronto. To see the slow shut down of some of the city's favourite family run spots, hidden gems, and historic businesses is beyond devastating. Alfred Siu shares his experience as a business owner coping with the pandemic since March.
Project Gigglewater is a local bar located at 1369 Dundas Street West. It is a small, cozy, beautifully decorated space, with every detail from the art on the wall, to the font on the menu thoughtfully curated. Owner Alfred SIu explains that they "quietly soft opened the bar in November 2018 but had our grand opening in January 2019."
"We worked hard and grew our reputation over the first year. Business was starting to take off right before the pandemic. We had a strong industry following and we were getting large birthday bookings every weekend. It was challenging, establishing a new cocktail bar in an existing trendy Dundas West neighbourhood with a lot of competition from highly regarded local bars and restaurants. The success we have found has been primarily due to maintaining our vision of high standards in service and offerings," Alfred explains.
During the pandemic most restaurants closed for months, but Alfred explains that Project Gigglewater was really only closed between March 16 and March 27th. "We closed our doors after March 15th service when we received the announcement that Toronto was in lockdown. As soon as we got the news on March 26th that we could sell alcohol to go, we developed a plan and launched the entire program in one very long day. It was a challenging start but we improved and progressed over the months. With the indoor dining restrictions recently, we decided to close for dining service and commit to the online sales route. We recently improved our entire cocktail kit program and upgraded our packaging as you can see from the photos on our Instagram"
Like most businesses, Alfred let all his staff go once the lockdown started so they could receive CERB.
"As an owner/operator, for the first 3 months of cocktail deliveries, I did everything myself from packing the cocktail kits and delivering them. Once we were allowed to open the CafeTO street patio, I brought back some of my staff." The CaféTO program aimed to provide more outdoor dining areas to help some restaurants and bars create physical distancing for patrons on patios during the summer months.
"CafeTO was a life saver, a little boost in sales to help keep us afloat. At first we started with single use menus but transitioned into using QR codes for the menus. We do our best to contribute to the green process. We installed Plexiglass sheets for the bar area. We followed all government regulations to provide a safe and comfortable experience for guests, without sacrificing the atmosphere of the bar" Alfred shares.
"We keep our ears to the ground and hear what’s going on in different industries in addition to our own which helps us plan. It’s going to be a demanding next few months." With Christmas and the holidays fast approaching-- a busy season for the restaurant and bar industry, Alfred Sui says he and the team "will have to find creative solutions to capitalize this season".
"I have my whole team focusing on transitioning our sales mix to online orders. I am confident we will persevere and emerge stronger. Although we really don’t know when we will be allowed to reopen for indoor dining, we will be prepared".
The restaurants and bars are the livelihood for so many people across the world and here in Toronto. It has been a long and tough year but it is necessary to hear the stories and experiences of those that have been most affected. Currently, Project Gigglewater is Alfred's only venture but this bar is one of a kind-- and the whole neighbourhood agrees.
"I only have Project Gigglewater at this time but given the initial response over the first two years I might have more concepts on the way!" Project Gigglewater is persevering through the pandemic and we hope that more restaurants and bars are able do the same and keep their head above water through it all.