Visit Oakville is running the annual Taste of Oakville until March 10th this year. Taste is an opportunity for local restaurants to pump up their revenue at a time of the year when many restaurants enter their slow season.
“It’s such an event, and the town of Oakville does a good job marketing it,” says Anthony Cappuccitti, owner of one of this year’s participating restaurants, Buca Di Bacco. “People from let’s say, Hamilton, Mississauga, Toronto, even North Milton. They’ll come down to check it out.”
Already off to a great start, the festival features over 30 local restaurants offering a prix fixe menu of specials and steeples alike. Diners also have the chance to win tickets to see Walk Off the Earth at the Oakville Centre for Performing Arts on March 31st, thanks to extra funding from the Ontario’s Reconnect Festival and Event Program.
The Taste of Oakville is organized and marketed by Visit Oakville, a destination marketing organization. Executive Director, Rebecca Edgar, hopes the chance to see Walk Off the Earth will draw in a younger crowd. She also stresses how important events like these are to the local tourism economy. “There’s a trickle-down effect. One Taste visitor can have an economic impact on a variety of local businesses.”
“I’ve had a lot of repeat customers because of this campaign,” said Cappuccitti. Locally owned establishments like Buca Di Bacco tend to be less known outside of town, so Taste can help to expand their customer base to neighbouring cities.
“People come out from Toronto, you know, as far away as Hamilton,” says General Manager of Cove Restaurant and Bar, Chris Wilson. “But Taste of Oakville is kind of like a neighborhood thing to try and bring in the local people.”
Locally owned restaurant chains are drawn to Taste as well. Chop Steakhouse, Kibo Sushi, and The Works are all well-established franchises with 16, 32, and 27 locations respectively. Still, local events are useful in raising brand awareness further away.
“Guests coming to visit us here will likely result in them perhaps frequenting another location closer to home,” says Operating Partner of Chop Steakhouse, Ashley Hershon.
“We’re actually a new participant in the Taste of Oakville. And we’re extremely excited to be able to participate,” said Hershon.
She is excited to be a part of taste because in previous years the Taste of Oakville was a downtown event, making Chop Steakhouse unable to participate. However, Visit Oakville decided this was a good year to expand.
“The restaurant industry was extremely hard hit by the pandemic so we wanted to do what we could to support our local restaurants,” said Edgar. Those who got to participate last year did so almost entirely through take-out.
“That was an extremely difficult challenge, but we came through,” says Cappuccitti. “We had a good takeout campaign going.” This year, however, restaurants will be offering the dine-in experience which is an important earning opportunity for restaurants.
“When people come in to sit down, they’re not just eating, they’re having a glass of wine, they’re having espresso, they’re having dessert, they’re having fun,” said Cappuccitti.
According to a research report from Restaurants Canada, profit margins in the restaurant industry are only about 4.3 per cent. As a result, events like Taste are key to the success of local restaurants. Most of Taste’s previous participants agree that the campaign nets an increased profit but first-time participants are waiting for Taste to wrap up before they count their chickens.
“The menu price point is lower than we would typically have in our restaurant. However, we’re hoping that the guest count will increase and we’ll be able to work off of volume,” said Hershon.
For diners, there is an abundance of cuisines to choose from. There are multiple Italian restaurants in addition to Buca Di Bacco, as well as some local pizzerias like Pizza Nest and Dough Box.
Kibo Sushi is the only Japanese restaurant participating in this year’s event. The chain’s rapid growth in Toronto over the last five years has allowed it to expand into Oakville. At their Lakeshore location, they’re serving a couple of specialty items just for the event.
“For the assorted Sashimi we ordered some special fish which is also not on the menu so that people can try something special,” said Aeri Lee, General Manager at Kibo’s Lakeshore address in Oakville.
Kibo’s selection of seafood dishes will be competing with Cove and a number of other seafood-themed restaurants this year. There are a few offering Greek and one or two offering sweet treats, like Sugar Suite Cakes and Confections, and even a Chinese menu served by Shanghai Alley.
The complete list of participating restaurants is listed on the event’s website. With capacity limits on restaurants recently lifted, local foodies interested in something new have never had a better reason to try local.