Like spring flowers, new restaurants are opening up all around Charlottetown.
Richard Court, operator of Pilot House, is opening up a new seafood restaurant called Sea Rocket in the old Anne of Green Gables store on Victoria Row. He describes all the new openings as pent-up demand — from restaurateurs, not from customers.
"We had a couple of years of nothing opening. Many people had plans and didn't get to them," Court told Island Morning's Wayne Thibodeau.
"With everything opening up and people realizing they've survived the pandemic they're like, let's do something new. Let's put those projects back in play."
P.E.I. restaurants have fared relatively well during the pandemic.
According to Statistics Canada, the province's 17.3 per cent drop in restaurant revenues was one of the lowest in the country, and well below the Canadian average of 25.5 per cent. While restaurants were open they did well overall, with a 5.5 per cent profit margin, scarcely changed from 2019 and the highest in the country.
Most provinces had profits below three per cent in 2020. P.E.I. restaurants had higher profits than those in any other province from 2016 to 2020.
That seems to have Island restaurateurs bullish about the future.
Brett Hogan, operator of Hopyard on Kent Street, just opened the Italian eatery Abbiocco across the street.
Kent Street has seen a lot of new openings since Hopyard launched in 2016 — Upstreet has a location there, and the new Arts Hotel has a couple of venues — and Hogan said that's a good thing.
"We don't look at it as competition at all, the new people that are coming into Kent Street," he said.
"We welcome it, and we want to make it more of a destination."
Staffing, supply chain issues
But the pandemic is still presenting challenges.
Primarily it's about staffing, and that's not entirely a new problem, said Anuj Thapa, who operates Himalayan off University Avenue
Thapa just opened City Kitchen, an Asian food restaurant, at the site of the old Beanz cafe on Great George.
"It takes a while for new people, to teach [them]," he said.
"Once we train, after two or three years, people may change their profession. This is an ongoing process for us."
But the pandemic has made it worse, a problem that's been seen across the continent.
"There doesn't seem to be as much workers as there was a couple of years ago, pre-pandemic," said Hogan.
"I think a lot of cooks especially have switched into more of a 9-to-5 role somewhere, got out of the industry. Hopefully we'll see some of them come back."
Abbiocco just hired 30 staff, he said, and that's going to put pressure on seasonal restaurants looking to hire in the coming weeks.
The pandemic has also disrupted supply chains, which is particularly problematic for City Kitchen, said Thapa.
"[We're] using multiple spices from different parts of the world and still we are not able to get all these things on the Island," he said.
Deliveries can be uncertain, said Thapa, and prices are going up.
Food costs are up across the board, and while the Island tourism industry is expecting more of a normal season this year, with inflation high restaurants will have to be creative as consumers look to keep expenses down.