April 19, 2021
Category: Blog Posts
Dalla Tavola Zenari: Surviving Tough Times
Two years ago, Elisa Zenari closed down her family’s beloved namesake lunch spot in Manulife Place. The plan was to reopen several months later in a bigger location at Rice Howard Way under a new name Dalla Tavola Zenari. Elisa and her husband Ran Huget re-envisioned Dalla Tavola Zenari as a 90-seat, sit-down restaurant offering an expanded menu of classic Italian dishes and an extensive drink list.
They wanted it to be the kind of restaurant where business people would close deals over a glass of white wine and a plate of risotto, and theatre-goers would stop by for pre-show crostinis and antipasti. They hired an interior designer to create a space fashioned after the type of modern Italian cafes that Elisa had seen on so many of her trips to Italy.
Things were going well, then COVID-19 hit, changing everything they had planned. The restaurant didn’t open until late November, only to be blindsided by yet another lockdown a few weeks later. “At that point we had no real plan,” Zenari admits with a laugh. “It was survival.”
Like most new businesses opened in 2020, Dalla hasn’t been able to access much of the emergency funding given to established endeavors. They recently were eligible to receive some regional relief funding from the Canadian government, but the biggest help so far has been from a very flexible and understanding landlord.
“They’re the only reason we’re even open now,” Zenari sighs. “If I could, I would stand on a soapbox and sing their praises. They’re very farsighted and supportive, often ordering food from us and gift cards for their staff. They want us to succeed and not worry about the money until things are back to normal.”
Like other restaurants adapting to the ever-changing rules of dining during a pandemic, Eliza and Ran concentrated heavily on e-commerce and takeout. Dalla’s crew fell from ten staff to five and they slightly tweaked the menu. “We always wanted home-style Italian food, the kind of thing that people crave during bad times,” she says. “They want food that feels like a warm hug, and that’s what we have.”
The changes have been well received by their growing customers, many of them long-time diner who have been with the Zenaris since 1984 when the original restaurant opened in Manulife Place. “We have old customers that come by three times a week, and some come every day,” marvels Zenari, who estimates that 75 percent of their customers dine-in when restrictions allowed it, as opposed to 25 percent who order takeout. “That’s so important to us. It’s hard to make a go of it without the office workers who used to come by.”
“The main thing as we move forward is re-educating people to understand that we’re open for evening dining as well as lunch.” The office workers will come back soon later this year, but until then, they’re happy for the love that they’ve received from Edmontonians and are excited to welcome new diners to their space during Downtown Dining Week.