For the first time since the pandemic started, Summerlicious is back.
The return of the discounted, three-course lunch and dinner program comes as a relief for many hard-hit Toronto eateries — especially those that opened in the past couple of years.
"We have to turn this business, at this location, into a destination," said Boaz Rachamim, 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 for very long."
Rachamim signed up for the first time this year, hoping Summerlicious would bring in 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, he's not the only one — more than 40 per cent of the 200 restaurants signed onto the event are participating for the first time this August. A complete list of participating restaurants is available on the the city's website.
"It's about letting people come in and see what we offer," said Rachamim.
"I think once people open the door and they see what we're doing here, they're going to get blown away."
Getting customers through the door
The program was renewed to help restaurants recover and generate revenue, and encourage residents and tourists to rediscover Toronto, a city release states.
"I encourage Toronto residents to dine local and support our restaurants," said Mayor John Tory.
About 13,000 Canadian eateries have permanently closed their doors since the pandemic hit, says Restaurants Canada, a non-profit organization that represents the food service industry across the country.
This year, Summerlicious runs from Aug. 12 to 28. While participating restaurants have dedicated menus during this time, some like Lobster Burger Bar have added other dishes to their normal selection.
But that's not all the east-end eatery is doing to attract customers — especially those who've spent the last couple of years wrapped up in caring for their pandemic pets.
"We're hoping to bring people in for Summerlicious with their dogs," says Chris Chan, the manager of Lobster Burger Bar.
Chan says the restaurant has young talent that's always looking to try something new. After a "rough few years" since launching around January 2020, he says adapting to the changing times is part of what gets customers coming in.
"We started it during COVID after realizing a lot of people stayed home with their dogs all the time, and they have anxiety," said Chan.
Representing 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 all over Greater Toronto and beyond to take note.
"We've got some good food out here in Scarborough, and it's worth the drive from anywhere in the GTA to come to Scarborough and try out what we do," said David.
David launched his restaurant on Kingston Road near Midland Avenue right as the pandemic hit. He credits the community's support for keeping the business afloat, and hopes the summer event grows it even more.
"We want to create and make it a place, a little haven that people from wherever can come in and feel at home," he said..
The last time Summerlicious took place was in 2019, and only two restaurants from Scarborough signed up. This year that figure sits at five.
"If it's successful, it will maybe encourage others in Scarborough to participate next time around," said David.