When talking about restaurants adapting to Covid restrictions, Gray Jay is uniquely positioned — that’s because the team behind the new Preston Street restaurant, chefs Dominique Dufour and Devon Bionda, are work and life partners. It certainly facilitates menu collaboration and working in the kitchen. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy.
“The first week, the pressure was hard to handle, our nerves were raw from trying to turn our business around and saving what we had just built,” says Dufour. “We felt angry, powerless, like doing this take-out was rattling our little tin cup to the world. We didn’t know if there was a need, and if we were fulfilling it.”
She says they asked themselves some tough questions about reduced standards, brand identity, and pulling off top-quality meals as a team of two.
“In the end, we couldn’t let the fears paralyze us. We found our new bottom line, created our new normal, reduced our operating hours to what we could manage properly without killing ourselves,” she says. “We are still learning … but now we feel more at ease with the process. We can start creating more because we now have a structure.”
Find the full menu — including a special Mother’s Day package — at GrayJayHospitality.ca
We caught up with the two chefs to find out more about their inspiration, challenges, and hopes for Gray Jay.
What inspired the menu?
When we started hearing about Covid, and understanding that we were going to need to change our business to adapt to the crisis, I started asking questions: What do people feel when they are sick, scared, and isolated? What do they yearn for? What do they physically need? A lot of my answers were things like familiarity, reassurance, nourishment. So that was our starting point, and that’s how the family meals started — even if you only order it for one, it is from our family to yours.
What challenges did you face in making this big change in your operation?
It definitely was a steep learning curve! We had never done anything like take-out, so just that factor was a lot to handle. Then we needed to change the way we take orders and our payment system; managing the deliveries has definitely been the most challenging part of the equation. In a restaurant, you control the dish from creation to plate delivery, but once it’s in the box and sent out, it’s out of your hands, which is hard to accept (no I’m not a control freak…)
How do you think the closures brought on by Covid-19 will affect the future of the local restaurant industry?
I think that the effects of Covid will be deeper than just reopening from our closure, back to routine. When we do reopen we will be in a recession, there will still be fear, waves of resurgence, and unfortunately some storefronts will remain empty. I think this crisis will have taught us to listen to our community. What do they need right now? What do our farmers need? How can we be there for both sides?