After a tough year of pandemic restrictions that significantly affected Ontario’s restaurant industry, El Patio at Kawartha Coffee Company in Bobcaygeon reopened for outdoor dining on June 11th to a hectic but hugely successful weekend.
For El Patio owner Kathleen Seymour-Fagan, her restaurant’s huge outdoor patio is its saving grace at this point in the pandemic. The patio, licensed initially for just under 300, can still seat 110 even with tables distanced two metres apart.
“We’re thrilled to be open,” Seymour-Fagan says. “It went fantastic. It has really great energy, and generally, our customers have been awesome and super supportive.”
Seymour-Fagan says in their reopening weekend, El Patio (formerly known as the patio at Kawartha Coffee Company) was the busiest she has seen in 15 years of business.
While she celebrates the success of the reopening weekend, she notes still that it wasn’t without a few road bumps. The restaurant was so busy that first weekend they ran out of food before the weekend was done.
“We were so busy that, on Sunday, we ran out of food at about four o’clock and we closed,” Seymour-Fagan explains. “We closed until Thursday. My staff were too tired. We’re not used to it.”
“We’re trying to relearn — we haven’t been open since last October,” she adds. “We’re running out of food a lot because you don’t expect the volume (of people) you’re getting in.”
In addition to its size, the patio has garnered popularity for its fun and tropical aesthetic, delicious drinks, and fresh Mexican food.
El Patio has a Mexican food truck that features items like taco-sharing platters. For drinks, they specialize in margaritas and craft beers.
The patio is decorated with tropical plants and string lights. The space also features a large mural celebrating Bobcaygeon, commissioned by Seymour-Fagan and created by Fenelon Falls artist Penni Holdham.
“It’s got a very festive vibe to it,” says Seymour-Fagan of El Patio. “It’s not like you’re just going to go to a bar — it’s an experience. That’s why we have people coming back. People are like ‘I’ve been wanting to come here for a year, and I finally got here.'”
Live music and outdoor karaoke are features of the restaurant that will be returning to El Patio this summer. Seymour-Fagan says they typically bring in live music on Sunday afternoons and Friday evenings, but to keep an eye on their Facebook and Instagram pages for live music announcements.
Step two of Ontario’s reopening plan, which takes effect on June 30, increases maximum capacity per table for outdoor dining and also allows for outdoor karoake and live music (with some restrictions). It will allow El Patio to seat six patrons per table instead of four, and resume outdoor karaoke on Saturday nights.
While step three of Ontario’s reopening plan, projected for late July, will permit indoor dining with capacity and other restrictions, Seymour-Fagan says she is not planning to offer indoor seating in the café section of her business (Kawartha Coffee), which typically has a capacity of 40.
“If I make the tables six feet apart, that reduces my capacity immensely,” Seymour-Fagan notes. “It’s more of a café vibe inside. The sales are down in that business. Right now, you just come in, order your stuff, and leave.”
Kawartha Coffee offers items such as specialty coffees, smoothies, frappés, and bakery treats. Currently, it operates from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. daily.
Eliminating indoor seating is not the only pivot Seymour-Fagan is making as a reaction to the current pandemic restrictions. El Patio is also not currently doing takeout orders nor taking reservations during weekends.
“It’s too busy,” Seymour-Fagan explains. “It doesn’t make sense to hold tables or do a large takeout food order when we’ve got people sitting on our patio waiting for their food. Because the patio is so large, the most you’ll have to wait is 10 minutes.”
Despite El Patio’s current popularity, Seymour-Fagan notes the pandemic has made for a challenging year for her business and staff. She asks her patrons to keep this in mind and to be kind and understanding.
“It’s the constantly changing rules — that’s the most difficult thing,” Seymour-Fagan says. “And the non-clarity from all levels of government and the health unit. And the confusion from customers.”
“Even now, you can have a table of four, and then you can have more than four as long as they’re from the same household,” she explains. “People outside looking in could be like ‘Oh, they have a table of eight there! How could they do that? I’m going to call public health.'”
Although Seymour-Faga says she’s had a few unpleasant customers, most customers have been great and very supportive.
“Generally, people are lovely,” she says. “You only get the odd few, but the thing they don’t realize is that one (unpleasant) person can destroy the whole team’s day.”
The El Patio staff is comprised of teens and young adults ranging from age 14 to 23. According to Seymour-Fagan, her young staff has been handling the reopening difficulties in stride and are eager to learn.
“They’re just kids, but they’ve been amazing because it hasn’t been that easy,” she says. “But they’re learning. They work together as a team. They’ve got really great energy.”
“From our patrons, we ask for a bit of patience and understanding,” Seymour-Fagan adds. “We want to serve the best product, the best drink, the best food, and the best service that we can. But we don’t always necessarily have as much staff, or sometimes we’re out of something. So we ask for a little bit of patience and understanding of the difficulties that we all are going through.”
El Patio is located at 58 Bolton Street in Bobcaygeon. To learn more about the restaurant and to view the menu, visit www.kawarthacoffee.com.