When restaurants in British Columbia reopened for dine-in business at 50-per-cent capacity, Kissa Tanto, an upscale Japanese-Italian Supper Club in Chinatown, was not among them.
“For restaurants with less than 200 seats, it doesn’t make sense,” executive chef Joel Watanabe says. “To bring back 80 per cent of the work force for 50 per cent of the revenue is just a formula for losing money.”
Kissa Tanto is on a second floor and does not have a patio or room to expand. Instead of opening, it will try to stay afloat by expanding its takeout options with exclusive pantry items and picnic baskets – a growing trend among restaurants and a fantastic way for consumers to eat spectacularly well at home.
Ian Tostenson, president and chief executive of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, estimates that about 10 per cent of all restaurants opened for dining this week and predicts that just 60 per cent of all establishments would open by the end of the month.
The economic reality of physically distanced dining rooms divided by plexiglass barriers and two-metre spaces between tables means that many restaurants will continue whatever pivots they made during the province’s first phase of restricted activities.
Even the larger restaurant groups and chains that have already opened up their dining rooms will continue their side hustles to make up for lost revenue. Joey Restaurant Group, for instance, reopened all its B.C. locations this week, but will still offer Joey Market items (everything from barbecue packs of meat to coffee cream and eggs) for takeout and delivery until it is operating at 100-per-cent capacity.
For diners who aren’t quite comfortable visiting restaurants yet, this is actually a great opportunity to support restaurants and eat extremely well. Restaurants have access to premium products that aren’t available in grocery stores. And they purchase them for wholesale prices, which means that even with a small markup the cost to consumers is still very affordable.
“We have all these rare cheeses and olive oils,” says Mr. Watanabe, who also plans to turn the restaurant’s curbside pickup into a mini bodega by selling house-made focaccia, compound butters, barbecue kits with marinated meats and picnic baskets with pickles, charcuterie and sparkling wine.
“So you can come get your meal for tonight and then have a bunch of stuff for tomorrow.”
He is puzzled by the fact that Kissa Tanto’s meal kits aren’t as popular as the four-course prepared meals. The kits include a full box of pasta, a container of regular-menu sauce such as duck ragu and Parmesan cheese. They cost $29 and feed four. “You couldn’t buy all the ingredients at the grocery store to make the same meal at home for less money. You really couldn’t. But nobody seems to want them, strangely enough.”
It puzzles me, too, why more people aren’t eating this way. Personally, I haven’t set foot in a grocery store since mid-March. Except for a few trips to the drugstore for toiletries, I’ve done all my food shopping through restaurants and restaurant suppliers. It’s hugely convenient and surprisingly affordable. Quite honestly, I’ve never eaten better at home.
Here are the best I’ve tried:
A $95 pack feeds two people and includes chicken noodle soup, Bolognese sauce, vinaigrette and three types of protein (four pieces) wild coho salmon, chicken breast and 10-ounce USDA Prime striploins (which can’t regularly be found at retail), plus a fully prepared meal with chicken cacciatore, corn bread and vegetables. Individual food items, wine and cocktail kits also available. Combine this with a fruit and vegetable harvest box from Harvest Community Foods ($38) and you’re set for the entire week.
Curbside pickup or delivery: boulevardvancouver.ca
A selection of pantry provisions, ready-to-eat meals and prepped meal kits from Elisa Steakhouse, Blue Water Café, Cin Cin and Thierry. Highlights include a whole truffle-stuffed chicken ready for roasting ($25), lasagna for two ($18) and the kitchen essentials kits ($28) with flour, butter, sugar, eggs, maldon sea salt, jams, granola and one pound of Thierry signature whole bean espresso, which is excellent. The espresso alone would cost close to $20 anywhere else.
Curbside pickup or next-day delivery: toptable.ca
Caffé La Tana
Premium Italian olive oils, vinegars, anchovies, flour, fresh pasta, pizza kits, meats, fish, fior di latte, produce, coffee, milk, wine, beer. You could pretty much do all your shopping here. The prices are slightly more expensive than other restaurant retailers, but watch out for promo codes online. I’ve seen several collaborations with unemployed chefs that offer a 10-per-cent discount on your entire order.
Curbside pickup and next-day delivery: caffelatana.ca
This is the best B.C. fish on the market. During normal times, 95 per cent of the local, wholly sustainable catch is sold to restaurants. The Couples Isolating Pack ($85.40) includes a one-pound tub of wild humpback shrimp tails, one long piece of wild Haidacore (registered organic) albacore tuna and two six-ounce pieces of halibut, ling cod and sockeye salmon. The frozen packs come in a variety of assortments, which also include premium canned salmon and Goodly Soups, a collaboration with a non-profit society that provides nutritious foods to local charities and food banks.
Weekly delivery throughout Metro Vancouver, Squamish and the Greater Toronto Area: shop.organicocean.com
Orto Artisan Pasta
One-stop shopping for the best of the North Shore, including fresh pasta (only $3 a portion), classic French specialties that change weekly (from beef bourguignon to choux pastries) from the old La Régalade, Bad Dog Bakery bread, rooftop honey, harvest boxes from various small farms, organics, tapenade, vinaigrette, caramelized onion butter, local artisan cheeses and liqueurs from the Wood Spirit Co. While you’re there, swing by Two Rivers Meats and pick up a preordered box of frozen meats, now available from North Vancouver’s best butcher shop and restaurant wholesale supplier.
Saturday pickup: ortoartisanpasta.com
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