lockdown toronto

Toronto restaurant owner documents city's lockdown in stunning photo series

Shortly into the second lockdown, one of the co-owners of a Toronto restaurant was inspired to pick up a camera.

Jody Shapiro set out to be a fly on the wall documenting the struggles his restaurant Antler was going through during lockdown, almost as a time capsule of sorts.

"At Antler, we have had to reinvent ourselves nine different times during the pandemic. It's been exhausting. Each day brings new challenges that a core group of strong people are determined to weather through. It's an unprecedented time in the hospitality industry and, I felt, an important time to archive," Shapiro told blogTO.

"When we look back at these photos in 10 to 20 years, what will stand out? The piles of takeout containers on tables where customers used to sit? The anonymous masked chefs and general managers, who cared for guests front and centre? What would have changed in the industry since then, what will remain the same?"

Prior to opening Antler with Michael Hunter, a restaurant that's been an ode to a love of hunting and cooking wild game, Shapiro had a background in film and photography.

"I'm in my safety gear and like to go during a restaurant's prep and takeout packaging time, so I can capture all the staff who are working," says Shapiro. "I'm trying to do this in a photo-journalistic approach, focusing on the people and the environment they now work in. I hover in the background taking behind-the-scenes photos."

It wasn't long before he started documenting other restaurants as well, such as The FederalHawk & Chick and Sakai Bar.

"I'd love to photograph as many restaurants and people as I can. Everyone I've photographed has been very receptive and wants the same goal: to safely navigate their way through this," says Shapiro.

"There's some fear, and confusion about how it will all turn out, but there is also a lot of creativity. Rasa is doing virtual cooking lessons, Skippa has a beautifully packaged omakase take out meal, at Antler we're gearing up for Christmas dinner and New Year's Eve meal kits."

Shapiro's only goal for the photo series is to show how hard people are working to survive and how restaurants are all in this together, though he has considered using his work for charitable efforts.

"There was a thought to maybe team up with a gallery and make some prints for a hospitality fundraising effort. Nothing would make me happier to contribute to the industry as a whole in that way," says Shapiro.

"Hundreds of restaurants across the city are dealing with the same issues. We all want our businesses to survive, safely, profitably, we're moving forward as the same team."

Lead photo by

Jody Shapiro


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