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Pandemic Profiles #3: Tomasso’s Italian Grille

Tomasso’s Italian Grille is an upscale-casual, family-owned, and operated restaurant located on the banks of the famous Trent River in the heart of downtown Trenton, Ontario.

Since 1999, Tomasso’s has become a meeting place for local residents and a destination for people visiting the Bay of Quinte region. Tomasso’s also has a takeout and delivery division – Jim’s Pizzeria which was founded in 1970 and is a Trenton institution. 

Built across four properties for multi-level seating with soaring ceilings, touches of wood and steel, and a waterfront patio – the setting is a perfect combination of contemporary urban style and rustic Mediterranean comfort. The Italian-influenced menu is a perfect combination of traditional classics with a modern flair.

With this picturesque setting in mind, it’s upsetting (to say the least) to know that due to COVID-19 guidelines, indoor dining was shut down for nearly a year at Tomasso’s. “We were able to open for a little less than three months for outdoor service,” says Andrew Kotsovos, partner at Tomasso’s. 

For the team at Tomasso’s, the closure, while incredibly difficult from a bottom-line standpoint, was worthwhile to ensure that their employees and consumers were safe. “Our family is proud of the level of responsiveness our restaurant undertook and continues to take as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The health and safety of our staff, and everyone we serve, is the primary driver for the changes we have implemented (e.g. contactless delivery). We strive to be a leader in abiding by and exceeding Ontario’s new guidelines for restaurants,” states Andrew.

However, if any silver lining could be taken away from this, Andrew believes it is that it forced them to refocus on their roots – the take-out and delivery divisions of our restaurant. Additionally, Tomasso’s saw incredible support from the community. “We largely communicate with our customers through our social media. Being in a small community, word of mouth travels fast and we are thankful for all of our local support,” Andrew explains. 

Thankfully, Tomasso’s was also able to take advantage of support from the government to stay afloat. “We are very appreciative of the government support and utilized the following programs: CEBA, CECRA, CEWS, and the Ontario Small Business Grant,” Andrew elaborates. “The combination of programs have allowed us to keep team members employed and our dining room operating when we have been allowed to open.”

In fact, with patio dining reopened, Tomasso’s was able to bring back almost all their staff, and they currently employ approximately 60 staff. Nevertheless, the scaling back of these programs is looming over the restaurant, creating an uncertain future.

“These programs are essential for restaurants to continue to survive until we truly come out the other side of this pandemic,” Andrew says. He continues: “I think it is essential for our industry that all levels of government continue to work closely with Restaurants Canada to implement the recommendations the organization brings to the table.”

Andrew emphasizes the importance of keeping the foodservice industry alive in Canada by explaining the far-reaching effects of foodservice on the economy: “This is a quote from a Restaurants Canada article that I read and feel it says it best; ‘Something that most Canadians don’t realize is that at least 95 cents of every dollar we spend at a restaurant usually goes directly back into our communities. That’s because even during the best of times, a typical Canadian restaurant has a pre-tax profit margin of less than 5%.

No other sector keeps so little in profit and returns so much to our economy: 95% of all restaurant revenue typically goes toward local jobs, purchases from Canadian farmers, food and beverage producers and other foodservice industry suppliers, contributions to charity and more’.” 

If you want to join Andrew in the initiative to save restaurants across the country, join the Restaurant Survival Coalition from Restaurants Canada. Visit SupportRestaurants.ca for more information, pledge your support, and send a postcard message to your Member of Parliament and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland calling for sector-specific support.

Read more in the Pandemic Profiles series here.

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