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How to get island food on St. Joseph Island

Restaurateurs adapt to COVID-19 safety measures and offer locally-prepared foods people have come to love on the island

Thinking about a car trip sight-seeing around the island?

Order your lunch to pick up from one of the restaurants on St. Joseph Island.

Island restaurateurs dish on what's available, where, when and how to get it.

Even though temporary restrictions imposed by the Province of Ontario prevent patrons from dining in the restaurants, they are still able to enjoy their favourite meals in the comfort of their homes – or vehicles.

Telephones and social media have kept residents of and visitors to St. Joseph Island connected to their favourite eateries on the island, and there are several.

Restaurant owners say they have made adjustments to their process and are able to continue to serve their customers safely.

All four restaurants on St. Joseph Island – Fannies on the Island, Tilt’n Hilton Steakhouse and Beverage Co., Black Bear Café and Eatery and Camille’s Island Café – are available by visiting their Facebook pages. Menus, contact information, and hours of operation are all available on their sites.

Fannies on the Island

Fannie McFadden has seen her restaurant, Fannies on the Island, opened and closed four times since purchasing the eatery in November 2019.

“Walk-ins are not happening,” McFadden said. “So, people are calling and using social media big time, a huge change for us. I am blessed to have a grocery store next to the restaurant where people can get everything, from dairy to frozen foods. They are still able to come in and put in their order for take-out two or three days in advance. It’s been great.”

When she first reopened, she was operating at 60 per cent of her hours four days per week, down from six days a week. Now, after getting hit again, her hours went down to four days per week with only two staff. She now operates seven hours a day, down from 12.

“The trends have changed. For me, frozen foods, local (such as maple syrup and coffee) and groceries are a big thing,” she said. “We are just working on that. It’s changed how we do business.”

McFadden said personally, it means developing new habits or trends.

“I’m not sure how long it's going to last if people will re-embrace the difference or be so joyous or have created new habits,” she said. “It’s not like a switch where people will just shut off, I think it will be a balance.”

The Richards Landing businesswoman said she has seen an increase in traffic to the store and has changed the way she operates.

“It’s very, very interesting and every day is different. You have to be optimistic and run with the ball,” she said. “There is a lot of positive and a lot of negative and we just have to embrace the positive.”

For now, Fannies is open Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

McFadden had a dream when she purchased the restaurant on five acres and today is unsure whether it will come to fruition.

“Change is everything. It changes your business plan for sure,” she said.

Camille's Island Café

Most of the customer base of Camille’s Island Café is seniors.

When the pandemic first hit small businesses, Lisa Van Schaik began making a number of prepared frozen meals that would get seniors out of their houses once a week to pick up several days worth of ready-to-prepare meals.

“They could stay safe at home,” she said.

The pandemic has hit Van Schaik’s pocketbook with revenue plunging to 10 to 25 per cent of what it would normally be at this time of year.

Van Schaik has made a number of changes with each new regulation, from the number of seats available to a take-out window.

Then the most recent lockdown took place, resulting in no dining in and only take-out permitted for the Richards Landing business.

“I have really mixed feelings about this,” she said. “As much as I like seeing real estate moving on the Island and support Island people who are trying to sell their properties for years. But, last fall we had a lot of people up from the Toronto area, just for a weekend, looking at properties. I found this quite disturbing. You know they are not self-isolating. So, I figured the people dining out over Christmas would be from the Toronto area.”

So Van Schaik has decided to go beyond Ontario's Stay-at-Home Orders to be sure and be safe.

“I know other restaurants are allowing people into their buildings. We are not,” she said. “The door is locked. You do not have access to our building. You phone in your order and we will bring it to your car. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do but I am also doing what I believe as well.”

Van Schaik said she is really fearful of the coronavirus and its new strains.

This time in 2020 she had six employees. Right now, the business is being run by Van Schaik and her son, Steve Vendramini, and open four days per week, down from seven.

“I’m blessed to keep my nose above water,” she said, adding she is doing what she can. “Financially, it’s not enough but we are doing what we can do.”

Van Schaik is considering an alteration to the building.

“I believe this is not a pandemic but an endemic. Along with the three new variants we are going to be dealing with this for years and years to come,” she said. “I do not see us returning to a dine-in situation. It’s here to stay. I don’t see eradicating this. I don’t see this going away. It’s really scary. My priority is to keep my staff safe followed by my community and customers. I should put my customers ahead of my community, but they are the ones leaving their homes.”

Camille’s full menu and daily specials are listed on Facebook.

The number of customers depends on the day.

“I see a number of regulars,” she said, adding on the Island everyone has his or her own followers.

Days of operation changed starting on Jan. 28. Now, the café will be open Thursday to Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m.

Black Bear Café and Eatery

Mary Lou Eckmeier, owner of the Black Bear Café and Eatery, recently introduced a delivery service to go with its take-out service.

The service began Jan. 16 and is being tested over the next few Saturdays to see if it will continue or not.

There is a fee (paid to the driver and not included in the order price) and the amount depends on location. Customers are told when they place the order what the delivery fee is.

Customers can call, or enter the restaurant to place a take-out order. Signs on the door also instruct customers a mask must be worn to enter.

The menu is taped to the restaurant window and it’s posted online with daily specials.

Changes required by Ontario's Stay-at-Home Orders have meant a reduction in staff hours with no in-house seating, but the Café still maintains a staff of eight people, down by two.

“(We're) trying to keep everyone working,” she said.

The number of patrons the café sees on a day to day basis is down, Eckmeier said.

“It’s down because it's winter anyway,” she said.

Tilt'n Hilton Steakhouse and Beverage Co.

Chris and Cindy Hore continue to operate the Tilt'n Hilton Steakhouse and Beverage Co. six days per week themselves.

It's open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., after choosing to open later in the day and eliminate breakfast.

The Monday closure was pre-established.

The Tilt'n Hilton has opted not to offer delivery service at this time and is offering take-out with curbside services available.

“If you are not comfortable coming inside, we’ll take it out to you,” Cindy said.

The restaurant also has a portable payment machine.

Customers can come in the main door at the parking lot to place an order or pick up. Washrooms are available if needed.

They advertise on Facebook and still offer the same menu items. They try to list the daily lunch and supper specials as well as their pre-established weekly specials such as fish nights.

Winter months are traditionally slow, but Cindy can see a small increase now that the holidays are over. Customer numbers are also weather-dependant.

“When the weather is nice, you see off-island people coming onto the Island, out for a drive and they’ll stop in and order lunch or diner or even a coffee,” she said. “People are driving around when the weather is nice.”

“The main thing is, wear your mask, keep your distance and wash your hands,” she said. “Everyone will get through this if everyone follows those three steps.”