PKED caught up with Rare Restaurant located in Peterborough, Ontario to talk about how they are using the Tourism Resiliency Fund to help their business through recovery from the COVID-19 global pandemic.
1. Where did the idea/concept for your business come from?
Rare (former Rare Grill House) was started by Katie and Brad Watt in 2007. After 12 amazing years they passed on the torch. At the time Tyler had worked for them for close to six years as their sous chef and was ready to take the exciting leap into restaurant ownership. In 2019 we officially bought the restaurant and felt honoured to carry on the legacy that the Watt’s created. In 2020 we rebranded from “Rare Grill House” to simply “Rare” with a head to toe renovation. We proudly carried on the vision to provide Peterborough and the surrounding Kawarthas with a unique food experience inspired by using locally sourced ingredients. We dropped “Grill House” because we wanted to be known for so much more than just our meat selection. Sure we will always have a delicious steak, but there is always something for everyone. Our customers look forward to our feature board because they know that it will be something exciting.
2. What has it been like navigating the pandemic with your business?
Navigating the pandemic has been one of the most difficult challenges we have ever faced. The obstacles aren’t easy to get over and it seems like there is something new added to the list each week. We don’t have any secrets to share. We work extremely hard. Tyler is gone by 8am and usually home by 11pm (and that’s on a normal day). Owning a restaurant pre-pandemic was already a crazy commitment that changed the way we live our lives. Throw in a pandemic on top of that lifestyle and honestly – the pressure feels too much at times. We hit a point that we knew we needed to find a special way to take care of our mental health. For us that’s been making time to get outside with our family on our days off to try to forget about the madness at hand. It’s literally been a year of not knowing what we will do, but believing that we will be there standing to tell the next generation how we managed to do it. The support of our community has been incredible.
3. What will you be using the TRF funding towards?
We plan on using the TRF funding to go towards improving our pop-up back lot patio. Last year we did the unimaginable and set up a patio in the back private parking lot of Rare. Surrounding businesses and tenants allowed us to use the parking space from 5-10pm each day. Our staff set everything up and broke everything down each shift! It was an insane amount of work, but it allowed us to have customers dining again which was crucial after the first lockdown. The patio was a huge success.
This year we plan on doing a pop-up patio again, but we have plans to make some small improvements that eliminate the need to take up our neighbours parking spots! Because we are working with a private lot this will help us tremendously with set up and break down. We have already done so much work to prepare for this. The funding will allow us to tweak our space and make the experience more enjoyable for our customers. We are so excited for beautiful weather!
4. What are your hopes for the business in the next few years?
Our biggest hope is that the changes we are making now will continue to support our business through the waves that the pandemic creates. We know that our industry will never be the same again, but we hope that all the hard work we have put into developing these new things (takeout, frozen meal program, online ordering, patio etc) will continue to carry us through these difficult times. Lockdowns make it really hard, especially when indoor dining is restricted. Hopefully our government is able to get a handle on the spread of the virus so that our industry doesn’t feel like a yo-yo. We believe that we are changing the future for restaurants. Instead of thinking of it as negative we can try our best to focus on the positive. Through these changes we have made what we have to offer more accessible for everyone and we’ve been able to grow!
5. What is it like owning a business in Peterborough & the Kawarthas?
The small business community in Peterborough & the Kawarthas is amazing. We are connected to many wonderful business owners in the area. The pandemic has solidified our feelings about how awesome it is to be close allies with other folks in our industry. There is no competition here. Only a deep respect and love for one another. We all want to see each other succeed. We all want to see each other on the other end of this pandemic.
6. What makes your business unique to our region?
We have amazing relationships with our local farmers. If you want to go somewhere to hear a story about your food – Rare is the place to go. When you support our business you end up supporting a big net of other businesses in the process. We believe in creating a unique “Rare” experience each time you join us with seasonal ingredients. We have wonderful front-of-house staff who make you feel at home.
We are constantly teaching, inspiring and growing together along the way. We are passionate about food and drink and our goal is that you leave our space feeling that way too!
7. What is your favourite thing about living and working in Peterborough & the Kawarthas?
Tyler was born and raised here. It’s the perfect mix of city and countryside. Anyone who enjoys arts and culture will love what the vibrant downtown has to offer. Everything is close by! The people are friendly and our community is incredibly supportive. We live in East City where we are lucky enough to watch boats go by on the Trent Severn waterway as we drink our morning coffee before work! How neat is that? We adore Peterborough & the Kawarthas for all that it has to offer.
PKED is profiling several tourism-dependent businesses that were successful in receiving Tourism Resiliency Funding to support costs associated with adapting to public health measures and safety reopening, which will support the tourism industry’s recovery in Peterborough & the Kawarthas.