The cold and sometimes dreary months of winter are usually the slowest for many food establishments, but one restaurant owner is hopeful that with Winterlicious back on Toronto's culinary calendar, more people will be encouraged to dine out.
Machael Shaikh, general manager at Mildred's Temple Kitchen, says his restaurant has participated in the city-run program several times since its inception two decades ago.
"We've seen a bit of a dip, so participating in Winterlicious is a great opportunity to kind of showcase, hopefully attract a new clientele and establish some repeat business," Shaikh told CBC Toronto during a visit to the restaurant on Friday.
"Hopefully [this will] keep us going until the spring pops back around and we can start getting patio season ready again."
Machael Shaikh, general manager at Mildred's Temple Kitchen, says his restaurant has participated in the city-run program several times since its inception in 2003. (Susan Goodspeed/CBC)
Toronto's Winterlicious program — an annual food festival that celebrates local restaurants — returned in 2023 after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning Friday through to Feb. 8, diners can choose from chef-curated three-course prix fixe menus at six price points ranging from $20 to $55 for lunch and $25 to $75 for dinner at participating restaurants.
It's great the Winterlicious program's on to get people out supporting their local restaurants. - Machael Shaikh
The city says the program is an opportunity for everyone to indulge in new dining experiences and savour flavours as diverse as the city itself.
"The winter lull is tough on a lot of businesses, I think the hospitality industry in general — a lot of restaurants, cafes, especially with the high rates of inflation now, you know. And people are kind of looking at their pecking order, where am I going to cut? And I think restaurants unfortunately are kind of at that higher end where we'll scale back eating out," Shaikh said.
"We're seeing a bit of that being reflected for sure. So, it's great the Winterlicious program's on to get people out supporting their local restaurants."
The City of Toronto says Winterlicious is an opportunity for everyone to indulge in new dining experiences and savour flavours as diverse as the city itself. (City of Toronto)
A recent report from Restaurants Canada found that the restaurant industry is in dire straits and many businesses are in danger of going under, even after withstanding the once in a lifetime pummeling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group said more than half of its members are losing money this year. While that's not uncommon in an industry known for its razor thin profit margins, in 2019, only about 12 per cent of the group's membership were at risk.
An 'ideal' program
Mayra Monir, Elias Panah and Farhad Sarwari had just finishedlunch at Mildred's Temple Kitchen when a CBC Toronto team visited the restaurant.
Winterlicious began Friday and runs through Feb. 8. (City of Toronto)
Monir said they got the potted smoked trout as their appetizer, shakshuka for the main course, and avocado and cookie crumbles for dessert — for $34 each.
"I'm from Ottawa, we don't have this kind of program going on… Often when you're going into a restaurant you kind of get overwhelmed by all the options that you have available. So, I think just having a set appetizer, main and dessert menu was really helpful."
Panah — from Vancouver, and visiting Toronto for the first time — said Winterlicious is an "ideal" program for the slow winter months.
Lacey Jackson and Jessica Camara, who operate a store next to the restaurant, said the attraction of the Winterlicious program prompted them to make their first visit on Friday.
"[We] heard this amazing Winterlicious menu is on so we just wanted to check it out," Jackson said.
Winterlicious started with 36 participants in 2003 and has since grown to include more than 200 top restaurants across the city.
First time participants this year include Black + Blue Restaurant, Café Zuzu, La Palma, Little Sister Portland, Margo, Miss Likklemore's, Sara and Vela.