COVID-19’s community impact: Oshawa’s BLVD of hopeful dreams

The BLVD Restaurant and Bar at Niagara Drive and Simcoe Street North in Oshawa is currently open for business and hopes to stay that way. Photo credit: Musthafa Azeez

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles chronicling the effects of COVID-19 on businesses and organizations in Oshawa.

“We don’t have a patio, so it was quite a struggle when everything did hit,” says Tessa Canaris, supervisor of The BLVD (pronounced as “boulevard”) Restaurant and Bar, referring to the challenges of running a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A small establishment located at Niagara Drive and Simcoe Street North in Oshawa, adjacent to the campus of Durham College and Ontario Tech University, it hasn’t helped that most of The BLVD’s business generally takes place between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Since reopening in mid-July after a nearly three-month shutdown, they’ve had to close at 11 p.m.

While their neighbour, St. Louis Bar and Grill, has been able to adapt to regulations by utilizing an outdoor patio, The BLVD has been relying on the adjacent restaurant, Nathan’s Jerk.

Both establishments, owned by Subramaniam Natkuwanathan, or ‘Nathan’ to everyone who knows him, share a common kitchen. Though The BLVD had to shut down for almost three months in the spring, its sister establishment was able to continue operations through food delivery services such as DoorDash and UberEats, enabling Nathan to cope financially.

Relief also came in the form of “Beer2Go”, allowing customers to pick up beer from the bar and drink at home during the lockdown.

“People loved it!” says Canaris, explaining it became a success, especially due to the reduced working hours of beer stores and the fact that beer retailers such as Walmart are farther away for many.

Ever since Durham Region entered Phase 2 (the Ontario government’s reopening plan that allowed restaurants to resume in-person dining operations) in mid-June, The BLVD has been welcoming back customers.

Canaris points out most of the customers are regulars, so there is no sense of anxiety.

“This is their favourite place, and they know it’s safe when they come in here,” she says.

It helps that the restaurant is small and therefore quite easy to maintain in terms of health protocols, Canaris explains, adding health inspectors from Durham Region have been regularly coming around. “We’re making sure that we’re up to shape.”

Apart from Canaris, there are three other part-time staff members at The BLVD, all of whom are former students of Durham College and began working at the bar once it reopened. During the shutdown, the previous part-time staff members returned to their hometowns.

According to Restaurants Canada, an estimated 800,000 employees were laid off or not working as of April, 2020, due to the nationwide shutdown of restaurant operations.

Canaris says business normally increases when the new semester begins, but the fact most classes are now online and many students aren’t in Oshawa hasn’t helped matters.

“This is a place where they can come to get away and enjoy themselves,” she says, referring to those who’re still living in the city, “especially with COVID and being inside the house all the time having to do online classes!”

Though that sounds like an open invitation, Canaris confesses she doesn’t know if The BLVD will remain open throughout winter. There is speculation further restrictions might be placed on businesses such as restaurants, as the country tries to wrestle with rising COVID-19 case numbers.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau puts it, “the second wave isn’t just starting. It’s already underway.”

“I would hope that they’re not going to close us up,” Canaris says, “but I’m scared that they might.”

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