By Zachary Resnick
While established local restaurants can rely on loyal clientele to buy take-out or gift cards, what about newer businesses? It’s an eerily quiet time in Ottawa. Walk down any main street and you’ll see many local businesses and restaurants are shuttered, with notices of COVID-19 precautions in their windows.
One such restaurant is the brand-new City Goose. Located at 478 Bank Street, the site of the old Berryman Pub, this homey new neighbourhood spot is the brainchild of Eric Robertson-Tait and John Macklem. Both are restaurant industry veterans, having met while working at the popular Elgin Street eatery Pure Kitchen. They bonded over their shared love of the industry and desire to open a welcoming and comfortable neighbourhood space. They dreamed of serving feel-good dishes and hosting the community they love so much.
Renovations and branding were well underway and financing from the bank was all but locked down when the coronavirus struck.
“It’s tough,” said Robertson-Tait. “We wanted to be there for our community, of course. And we had to try to bring in some money so we could stay afloat.”
“We had to make a decision to pivot right away.”
In the first few days of the pandemic, Robertson-Tait and Macklem remained cautiously optimistic, hoping that work on the restaurant would continue as long as the contractors were able to keep showing up. As the necessity of social distancing became clear, the new owners quickly realized that they would have to course-correct.
“We had to make a decision to pivot right away,” said Robertson-Tait. “Our financial institution told us that they were no longer funding any new projects. And because we weren’t open yet when everything happened, we’re not eligible for the government stimulus packages for small businesses.”
City Goose turned their operations into take-out and delivery services. Like other small businesses and local restaurants, though, they’re worried about how they’re going to pay their rent.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we can provide people with a service, while keeping them and ourselves safe during this crazy time,” said Robertson-Tait. “The response has been very positive so far, and we’re just going to keep on trying.”
Turning almost overnight into a take-out and delivery restaurant keeps the two young entrepreneurs thinking on their feet. Not only did their menu have to be tested and adapted for takeout, it all had to be done while adhering to the strict new guidelines for serving during COVID-19.
“The response has been very positive so far, and we’re just going to keep on trying.”
The menu at this point consists of several pizzas on delicious homemade dough, a few hearty sandwiches, salads, and a couple of small desserts. All items are playfully named after friends and family. Everything is made on-site, using as many local products as possible. Complementing the food is a fantastic selection of local craft beers.
Some favourites among the opening offerings include the Pam-Pam, a pizza featuring a cheesy duo of bocconcini and goat’s cheese over a bright tomato sauce, drizzled with spicy honey; Chuck; a sirloin steak sandwich on freshly baked bread with pickled red onions adding acidity, a horseradish aioli delivering a burst of heat and richness to couple with the slightly crumbly aged cheddar, and peppery arugula to balance everything out. Dave is City Goose’s take on the Pop-Tart, the flaky pastry still crisp and warm upon reaching home, perfectly coupling with the mixed berry jam inside and the lemon icing topping it all off.
“It’s become a real family business, partly because we can’t do any hiring right now.”
“We just had to adapt because we wanted to be there for the neighbourhood. It’s become a real family business, partly because we can’t do any hiring right now,” joked Robertson-Tait. “But we want to extend that feeling of family to our neighbours. There’s a real spirit of community right now.”
How can we help a business that so desperately wants to help us during this crisis?
“Support local,” said Eric. “That’s our whole identity, and the message we want to share. We support local farms, breweries and producers with our business, but we also support the neighbourhood. And in turn, we can’t make it without the support of the neighbourhood.”
Robertson-Tait expressed his desire to be a welcoming and comforting part of his community, especially in these trying and uncertain times.
“I don’t see the end of the world when I look outside and see empty streets. What I see is an act of compassion for the health and well-being of others.”
The courage, drive and tenacity of these two new business owners is being tested in the most difficult of circumstances. Especially in times like these, Ottawa could certainly use a City Goose.
City Goose is located at 478 Bank Street. They are open for contactless take-out at www.citygoose.ca and delivery through UberEats.