With many Torontonians unable to afford dining out these days, restaurants are trying to figure out how to attract customers and stay afloat.
The current inflation rate in Canada is four per cent, with the inflation rate for food running at about 6.8 per cent. For restaurants as for everyone else, basic ingredients are at an all-time high. This has caused many of them to raise their prices.
Fantasy Kitchen, though, is one of the holdouts. Higher costs haven’t affected the prices at which the new restaurant on Harbord Street sells its food.
Sharm Mattri, who owns the restaurant with husband Andy and daughter Sami, understands today’s climate in the food industry.
“It is a very hard industry, especially now with interest rates being so high,” she said.
Their Harbord Village location just opened during the summer, after the first location opened more than a year ago in the Junction neighbourhood. While business is good it could be better, Mattri said.
“We strive to offer quality food at a reasonable price,” Mattri said.
Their menu consists of a variety of choices such as pizza, burgers, wraps, bubble tea, and much more. Everything is made on the spot, as well as ensuring that none of the ingredients and food go to waste at the end of the day.
For them digital marketing didn’t really help, but what has helped them most is their involvement in the community. They are sponsors of the Toronto High Park football club, which plays near their original location during the summer and during the winter near their second location.
The football club’s fanbase brings customers to Fantasy Kitchen and the restaurant owners are grateful for their support. They also plan to work with Tech Stadium to give a free burger to the best player of two matches.
No junk food
The Mattris are committed to not serving junk food to their customers, ensuring none of the ingredients they use are frozen, heavily processed, or artificially flavoured.
Customers are also welcome to join their loyalty program in which they can earn points and win a free meal.
“I feel like it’s very hard to eat a meal outside. It’s so expensive and everyone is trying to save,” Mattri said.
Food wise they are doing well according to Mattri, but they are still struggling due to all their other expenses.
“I hope it picks up soon,” she said.
Aki Donburi opened a month ago on Bathurst Street in the Annex and is dedicated to serving home-style Japanese donburi with a touch of Korean flavours.
Owner Nathan Kim opened the restaurant along with two other business partners knowing it would be expensive, but with the new condos being added on the corner of Bathurst and Bloor streets, they saw it was a good business opportunity.
“We knew that it was going to be hard with everything going on,” Kim said. “But we decided to give it a go.”
People are struggling
While they are slowly gaining recognition in the neighbourhood, Kim has felt welcomed by some people in the neighbourhood. As he recalls how some people would stop by while they were still in the process of opening and ask when they were going to open.
“They were, like, ‘we live nearby and we’re going to come by and see how you guys are doing’ and they really came back,” Kim said.
“We just need to be patient and see how it goes,” he said.
He understands people are struggling, which is why they are offering promotions to their customers as well as keeping a low price on their food.
Their menu consists of donburi which is a dish filled with a bed of steamed white rice, served with protein, vegetables, and pickles. They also offer salads, edamame as appetizers, and miso soup with every meal.
He wants the restaurant to maintain good quality while keeping a low price on their food.
“I just want to make people happy by feeding them,” he said.
Both Fantasy Kitchen and Aki Donburi have received rave reviews from customers.