Edmonton restaurants open their pantries to survive COVID-19 pandemic

More Edmonton restaurants are encouraging customers to look beyond the meals on their menus when ordering takeout.

Eateries now selling pantry staples and toilet paper as dining rooms remain shut

OEB's marketplace in Edmonton includes bread, maple syrup, honey and beer. (Dave Orsten)

More Edmonton restaurants are encouraging customers to look beyond the meals on their menus when ordering takeout.

As dining rooms remain closed, local eateries are emulating small grocery stores to bring in much-needed revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OEB Breakfast Co., which has six restaurants in western Canada, including two in Edmonton, saw sales drop more than 70 per cent in recent weeks. 

The company postponed opening a Saskatoon location and laid off 200 people because of the drop in business, but since opening a marketplace, from which customers can order staples like bread, eggs, meat and honey, sales have started to inch back up. 

Containers of lardon (sliced bacon) and other meat products are for sale from OEB in Edmonton. (Dave Orsten)

Eggs from vegetarian-fed chickens in Manitoba have always been popular at the restaurants, said Dave Orsten, vice-president of operations.

Now customers can buy those eggs by the dozen if they call the restaurant. 

"We're selling them like crazy," he said.

Food, flour and toilet paper

The marketplace at Local Public Eatery's Jasper Avenue restaurant has an official name: the Local Corner and Liquor Store.

The store is stocked with burger patties, salmon filets, butter, cheese, vegetables, pizza dough and cocktail ingredients.

Not surprisingly, flour has become one of the store's top sellers, said regional operator Dean Lowry.

Another hot item? Toilet paper at a dollar per roll.

Lowry said restaurant staff noticed people wanted to buy groceries without having to go to a supermarket, especially if self-isolating.

"As we're delivering them their wings or burgers or whatever they want for their meal, we can add on some groceries," he said.

Pasta care packages

Before the pandemic, customers could purchase fresh pasta and sauces from Cafe Amore Bistro, a downtown Edmonton Italian restaurant run by the Crudo family.

The restaurant is now selling pasta care packages, which range in price depending on the ingredients included.

Operations manager Melissa Crudo said the care packages have been a "saving grace" for the family business.

Typically, customers have been buying packages for themselves, plus additional ones for people they love, she said.

One recent customer told the restaurant he wanted to donate but had no one to buy for. It happened that earlier that same day, the restaurant had heard from a woman who wanted to order food but was running low on money.

Crudo connected the two people and the man bought the woman food from the restaurant.

Reading the personal notes customers send with the packages has been touching, Crudo said.

Condolence messages are common, as are birthday greetings.

"It's happy but sad at the same time," she said.