Why Jen Agg isn’t rushing to reopen her restaurants just yet

On a new episode of our NOW What podcast, the Toronto restaurateur discusses why she's proceeding with extreme caution


It’s been a week and a half since Toronto got the green light to enter stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan, and one of those big steps was the resumption of indoor dining in restaurants. The rules stipulate capacity be limited and social distancing protocols strictly observed. Restaurateur Jen Agg is not there yet.

While a number of establishments have indeed gone back to table service, the impresario behind Bar Vendetta, Grey Gardens, Cocktail Bar and Le Swan is holding off on going spots on extending service.

“We could have done it,” Agg explains in in an interview for our NOW What podcast. “That wasn’t really the issue. It wasn’t really an issue of not being prepped – that could have happened, had we wanted it to happen… my first thought was really, ‘I don’t particularly want to use my staff as guinea pigs for this.’”

The decision isn’t without risks: Agg’s restaurants have been surviving on takeout and patio services where possible, and indoor dining would bring in badly needed cash. But the risks, she feels, are greater than the possible revenue.

“Our restaurants are so small. If you look at a restaurant like Le Swan, how are you supposed to socially distance in a restaurant that’s, what is it, maybe 300 square feet? It’s very tiny,” she laughs. “What’s so destabilizing and unsettling is really just simply having no fucking idea what’s going to happen. And in terms of reopening for indoor dining? Yeah, my restaurants are are hanging in the balance. They are in peril. I could lose everything – and it’s just me, I don’t have investors to answer to.”

Another crucial factor in Agg’s decision to keep things clamped down: her husband, artist Roland Jean, is compromised. “He’s in his 60s, and he had a stroke at the end of April, so I’m scared for that [personally],” she says.

“I’m hyper-vigilant,” Agg continues. “I care a lot about my staff. And I don’t want to seem like I’m being judgmental of the restaurants that have opened – I do understand that people have no choice. If you can sort of make it work with outdoor dining… I understand, again, why people are doing it. And desperate times, desperate measures, all that. Like, do we want to be slinging burgers and hot dogs out back of Le Swan?”

She pauses. “Actually, that’s kind of fun. But it’s just out of desperation.”

Listen to our entire conversation below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes of NOW What will be released every Tuesday and Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, listen on Spotify or just play it above.

@normwilner

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