Chris Kamarlingos has owned the Quarry Café for more than a year, but don’t think he’s new to the restaurant business. He’s been serving diners for more than 30 years — and he knows the value of having loyal customers.
It’s that loyalty he hopes will get him through the winter as the world turns its eye to next summer and the strong possibility that, if you listen to some virologists, a vaccine will bring a sigh of relief.
The Quarry — clean, bright and airy — on Gerrard Street East is just a stone’s throw from the northeast corner of the Upper Beaches. Like other restaurateurs Kamarlingos has had to adjust to restrictions that aim to curb COVID-19’s spread, among them limited seating capacity.
“Of course now it’s very hard for inside [dining]. Based on the restrictions we can have a maximum of 30 seats,” Kamarlingos said in a mid-October interview.
“With the patio it was good up to now. From now it’s very hard. I put up a tent and we have another 30 seats in there.”
But even at 30 inside seats there are times he can’t reach his allotted capacity if just one person is sitting at a four-seat table. It means three seats can’t be used.
“There are times that there are only 18 or 15 seats [occupied] and the store is full. You cannot put any more customers in.”
Nevertheless, Kamarlingos is glad to get whatever business he can. And takeout, along with loyal customers, has been a small godsend.
“For me I was lucky. In the first month, because I stayed open, I had takeout,” Kamarlingos said. “The first month was very hard but afterward the people around the area they were very generous and they supported us very well.”
Spreading the word about patio heaters
Stage 2 let him open the patio back in the summer, and those extra tables were almost an early Thanksgiving for the Quarry Cafe. “We were doing very well,” he said.
But with winter setting in, business is once again leaving something to be desired. Kamarlingos installed heaters on the patio along with palm plants for decoration, but people aren’t yet aware of the heaters so it’s another waiting game as the word slowly spreads.
“As soon as they figure out there’s a place with a patio cover and heaters we’re going to get busier.”
Right now the Quarry is required to take names and phone numbers of customers when they arrive. Customers’ reactions vary, although it’s generally positive. Some understand, some joke, some leave.
Kamarlingos thought for a moment on the topic of mask wearing. “I don’t like to become the police,” he mused. “But the right thing is the right thing. If you have to wear your mask, wear your mask.”
Every table has a bottle of hand sanitizer, and tables and chairs are cleaned properly after patrons leave, Kamarlingos said.
Quarry’s loyal clientele
He’s a got a suggestion for the decision makers who impose the restrictions.
“They should come in a restaurant, sit down and talk to the owners, and then they should make their decisions,” he said.
He talks about Thanksgiving and how restaurants had gone ahead and bought turkeys only to be told “tomorrow you’re not allowed to use the inside. They didn’t give us any time.”
Kamarlingos fortunately had posted on his door in advance that he had turkey dinners “and people were calling and coming and picking it up.” He sold out.
“I was lucky. We are blessed because in this area we have excellent clientele. Our customers are very generous, very loyal.”
With current delivery companies charging high fees Kamaralingos is considering a new company that’s making itself known. They don’t charge as much, he says, and he believes customers will see that as a better option for their own pocketbooks.
Kamarlingos said he hears that a lot of restaurants in a six-kilometre area of his are going to have to close.
Despite the restrictions, the limited business, the dire news of others Kamarlingos talks about the need to hope. He tries to be optimistic.
“I hope everything is going to be well very soon. If we have a very early spring we’re going to do well. It’s going to help us a lot.”