The Covid-19 pandemic has forced every single business to readjust how they operate, including those in the hospitality industry.
“My initial goal was to generate enough revenue that we could keep all our employees working at the same rate that they were earning before and we have been able to do that,” says John Lechlitner, General Manager at Cecil’s Brewhouse and Kitchen, The Grande Event Centre.
“Although some people are doing very different jobs, they have adjusted extremely well. I’ve got catering managers from The Grande who are now doing purchasing and managing take-out. It’s been tough on people because they have had to adapt very quickly to new roles and I have to say I am very impressed with everyone taking on these new positions. And they haven’t complained about it. They have done such an amazing job of accepting that this is where we are and they still come to work with a smile on their face.”
Evolving and updating with the current times and trends is not something new to Lechlitner and the Cecil’s brand.
“Our family bought the building in 1988 and renovated that into Wylders,” says Lechlitner.
“As the market changed, both for peoples tendencies for restaurants over bars and smoking laws, it caused an evolution. So in 2003 we changed into Cecil’s and put the focus on to food and some entertainment instead of looking at just entertainment. We’ve continued to evolve, as we have become more of a mainstay in the local food scene. Around 2015 we also built the brewery in the pub.”
Another major change to the business occurred in 2015, when the Zoo Nightclub was torn down, to make way for The Grande Event Centre.
“The nightclub industry changed pretty substantially, really since the year 2000, as consumer habits and lifestyles changed.” says Lechlitner.
“We saw that it was time to exit the nightclub part of the industry and we evolved into The Grande Event Centre. We were originally going to do a renovation and addition, but very quickly realized it was going to be just as expensive or more expensive to go that route than to just tear it all down and build a new facility. That actually gave us the advantage of having those higher ceilings and installing more efficient systems and we also tried to be as “green” as reasonable so we used multi-staged heating and cooling and installed LED lighting, more efficient plumbing and those are the things that I think are not only the right practice for the long term but it also makes good economic sense.”
Lechlitner says the process in overhauling a nightclub was a team effort.
“Although I run the business, we have some tremendously valuable employees who provided great input and feedback during the planning process when we were building The Grande," says John Lechlitner, owner of Cecil's on Main St.
"From the food services side and the beverage and events side, we had the advantage of a very experienced team that already did a lot of catering and that allowed us to open up that window and realize there was a great opportunity for us.”
Lechlitner adds, “We’ve been very pleased with how the business has done, and every year we were seeing growth.”
That is until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic set in.
“We learned very quickly to pivot and evolve our business, we knew that corporate events and weddings and celebrations of any nature were on hold for the foreseeable future,” he says.
However, the restaurant side was still allowed to operate for take-out and delivery and Lechlitner says that brought them toward a Ghost Restaurant concept, which is where you operate different menus out of the kitchen.
“We saw this concept as a trend before the pandemic and it was happening in the United Kingdom and the United States. Through some of the professional associations and trade shows that we attended we saw this starting to become more and more popular and we felt this could be an opportunity,” says Lechlitner.
“Because of the size of our kitchen facilities and the equipment we had, we felt we had the capacity to start down that path and in January of 2020 we launched the Wyld Street Poutinerie. We had the Dessert Factory pretty much ready to go just as the pandemic hit, so we decided to move that forward.
As the pandemic took hold, we took it as a chance to run our other brands that now include Burger Republic, Grill Wich Food Co. and Nonna’s Kitchen.”
Lechlitner says they will continue to operate these five brands even once the COVID situation has started to ease off as habits have changed for both dining at a restaurant, as well as hosting events.
“We know we are going to be in for some interesting times,” he says.
“Will people still want to have large-scale weddings? I wonder how much zoom is going to change that idea of holding a large conference going forward. When are people going to be comfortable gathering in large groups for a social event? Those are the questions we don’t know, and we are looking to evolve our business with whatever happens coming out of it. We have some pretty exciting ideas that aren’t ready to come out yet, but they are ideas that can make sure we can pivot with what the new trends are, whatever they may be.”
Lechlitner says operating under the Ghost Kitchen concept can be very taxing on the staff but it is also very rewarding, as is the hospitality industry as a whole especially when it gets the kind of support from the community they have received over the last year with a push to support local businesses and restaurants.
“It’s very rewarding to see that support,” he says.
“It has always been important that we give back to the community, whether that be sponsoring events in the arts community or the sports community or whether they are public or private events that we are asked to be a part of, we have always tried to do it to the best of our abilities, and this is why. It’s because we are part of a vibrant community and it showed that our support of all those events was reciprocated in a time of need for our community to support our locally owned business.”
Lechlitner adds that is also one of the advantages of being in a smaller community like North Bay.
“It is a little bit easier to be more intimate with your customers and knowing who they are and knowing their lifestyle,” he says.
“I think we have an advantage of just being an independent or chain restaurant that might be plunked down in the GTA. We have a much different relationship with our clientele, we are part of the neighbourhood and part of the whole community.”