Dining options in Thunder Bay are expanding, thanks to the licensing of 13 new eating establishments in just one year — but some restaurant operators say more could be done to keep that momentum going.
The Lincoln Street Eater food trailer is part of the bumper crop of new places to eat.
Owner and chef Jennifer Sauve said she expects to see even more industry growth as people’s appetites are whetted for more variety.
"I would say that it's blossoming," Sauve said. "I would say that there's a renewed interest in the restaurant industry"
But she added that she wishes it were an easier business to get into.
Sauve said she plans to open a full restaurant, but it is a costly, complicated affair involving multiple city departments.
"The city's not fun to try to deal with in getting your permits and what they need for them and everything that they need for that," she said. "And the cost of drawings and everything else, and construction costs are just crazy. So you've really got to be crazy yourself to keep going with it."
‘Welcoming thing to see’
The city's manager of licensing said there are a lot of steps to opening up an eatery, especially if the building hasn't housed a restaurant before.
"But it's all to do with health and safety," Ron Bourret said. "At the end of the day, it's important."
Bourret agreed there seems to be a trend to more restaurant openings.
"It's a welcoming thing to see, because some of these restaurants are specialized in a sort of culture-based sort of food," he said. "And that's nice for the city to embrace as well."
Bourret acknowledged the system has an application process for people who want to open a restaurant that can be time-consuming, especially if it involves a building that needs upgrades.
Steps include making sure the building is properly zoned, taking out a building permit, undergoing a fire inspection, and meeting health regulations.. In the process, owners may learn about the need for renovations that may be costly.
This is all legislated under the Municipal Act and the process in Thunder Bay mirrors that in other cities, Bourret said.
Encouraging walk-in traffic
Not far away from Lincoln Street, on Red River Road, other restaurant owners hope the city will help them in another way.
They want Red River Road made one-way between Algoma and Cumberland Streets to open up space for sidewalk patios.
The head chef of the Foundry, which opened in July of last year, says he's happy to see an emerging gastro-pub scene in Thunder Bay.
Derek Lankinen said the Foundry wants to spearhead a petition to the city to put the road change in the works.
"It's very early in the process. It's really just an idea right now," he said.
"We're basically looking around at other cities and areas that they have. Restaurants in the bigger cities … all have patios. They have larger sidewalks. Their areas are a little more pedestrian-friendly, and I think that's what the waterfront in Thunder Bay could be."