tala toronto

This is what it's like trying to launch a new restaurant in Toronto during the pandemic

The opening of a new restaurant is usually an exciting experience for business owners.

In the case of Tala, a new Filipino restaurant that opened Friday, launching a new project during a global pandemic has been a messy process, to say the least. 

Owned by Cathy Ortega, who also co-owns the popular kamayan restaurant Tinuno in St. Jamestown, Tala's opening was highly anticipated by lovers of Filipino kamayan feasts. 

According to Cathy's daughter, Sasha, the restaurant has had to be extremely flexible in order to adjust to the many limitations COVID-19 placed on Toronto's food industry.

The restaurant was meant to open around the end of February, but Ortega decided to postpone the launch to take stock under quickly changing circumstances. 

"We kept a close eye on what was happening and it kind of hurt us to delay it for long," says Sasha.

Though the restaurant has seating for around 25, it was always meant to be more of a takeout- and delivery-focused restaurant, which is now proving to be a good decision since both Tala and Tinuno's physical spaces are closed.

"We’ve never worked with any delivery company, so it was very different because they’re dealing with COVID," says Sasha. 

While Tala has its own delivery driver, the restaurant is now working with DoorDash to get their brand on a larger platform. They had initially been hesitant to partner with delivery apps, given hefty commission fees, but the forced closure of dine-in restaurants across the city shifted their perspective. 

Due to a huge demand, DoorDash hasn't been able to send over an iPad to Tala. That means that all orders placed through the app are being forwarded by e-mail, or even called in to the restaurant in real-time by Tala's DoorDash account manager. 

That means that, by the time orders are sent over to Tala, five to ten minutes have already passed, at which point DoorDash's drivers have likely already arrived at the restaurant, which is another point of concern for physical distancing. 

"We deliver kamayan, which takes a bit longer than pizza," says Sasha. "At one point we have 12 riders waiting for orders, so we had to ask them to wait outside."

Their first day made a surprisingly decent amount of sales: $1,500, thanks in part to supporters who've followed over from Tinuno, says Sasha. 

"It's definitely not what we were hoping to make, but it was definitely more than we were expecting," she says. That being said, Tala is likely faring much better than fancier concepts trying to transition to takeout and delivery, since most people are less likely to splurge on fancy steaks delivered in cardboard boxes. 

In the meantime, Sasha suggests that kamayan — usually eaten with your hands — be eaten with cutlery, and with proper sanitiation in mind, until things get back to normal

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