bbq toronto

Toronto restaurants are bringing the BBQ out front to get into the summer spirit

Toronto restaurants are attracting takeout customers by putting their BBQs outside as the weather starts to warm back up.

Anyone who lives in this mostly wintry city knows that the scent of BBQ on the grill not only means summer, it's also one of the most tantalizing aromas to a hungry person walking the streets.

Wander down King West, and you'll find more than one BBQ on a patio. Ruby Soho at King and Portland inspires lineups with their daily street BBQ on from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Nearby at 102 Portland, Indonesian-Dutch restaurant Little Sister has also been throwing BBQs, pumping the music while grilling.

At Hemingway's, BBQs are a tradition, so it was simply a matter of making that tradition accessible to the street and altering the way they did it to fit within restrictions. Their BBQ now may not be the hub of boozy gatherings on the rooftop patio the way it once was, but it still draws people in.

They initially started doing their BBQs on the front street level patio in May 2020 for people walking by. A year later, indoor dining is back to being banned, and they've fired up the grill again. They're currently serving burgers (including their popular lamb burger) and half racks of ribs.

"We've now continued the BBQ for the current lockdown as a way to keep a handful of staff employed and to provide an escape for people," Hemingway's co-owner Daimin Bodnar tells blogTO. "Whilst out on their walk, being outside, they can grab a bite and a drink to go without ever entering the premises."

"We will continue the BBQ until the time comes that we can welcome guests back onto our rooftop patios."

Chris Murie has also set up a BBQ at his restaurant The Dizzy for the same reason: When you can't invite customers into your space, bring the experience of your business out to them on your front-facing patio. The grill is currently out on the Dizzy patio Wednesday to Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m.

"Taking into consideration that being outdoors is one of the safest ways to shop and since my patio is closed, I had an idea," Murie tells blogTO.

"So we set up a BBQ and offered an easy way of providing folks with a quick, safe and socially distanced way of grabbing a meal."

He set up a point-of-sale system, debit machine and plexiglass barriers, and since customers are on the sidewalk and he stays on the patio there's automatic distancing. The concept has taken off, and he's since started offering items like gourmet meat pies, lasagna, soups and homemade kettle chips as well as typical BBQ items like hot dogs and burgers.

"I didn't expect it to go so well, and every week the sales get better and better. I'm planning on keeping this model as a part of what we do on a permanent basis even when things become safe to return inside," says Murie.

"I really have been trying to convince some of my neighbourhood businesses to follow this model and bring all of their products outside. It makes things convenient for a COVID-exhausted crowd while keeping us all outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight."

The Irv puts their BBQ out a little less often, only on the weekends and only for walk-up orders, but also finds it to be a successful strategy. They've been selling ribs, brisket, hot dogs, burgers and even margaritas.

Like Hemingway's, they also had their BBQ open for takeout last summer successfully, and started grilling again just three weeks ago. They've sold out of everything all three weekends, and are planning on continuing to BBQ until things open up again.

"We do it because it's a tiny bit of normalcy for people," Irv owner Regan Irvine tells blogTO. 

"People seem to enjoy it and message us all the time about if we are doing it."

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