Don’t call it a comeback — he’s been here for years. Fox and Fiddle owner/operator Nathan Taus has had his north-end food and drink spot spruced up and says he plans to be around for many years to come in North Bay.
He says it was a bit of “fortuitous luck,” for the Fox in the timing of the government shutdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Slated for a four-week hiatus following St. Patrick’s Day already, Taus says staff had been given plenty of notice to prepare for a furlough, perishable supplies had been allowed to dwindle, and utilities were already scheduled to be scaled back as far as possible.
“Essentially we missed three days of business before we planned to be closed for a month. We had already planned not to have any revenue, it was saved for and the renos were paid for in full,” Taus advises. “Planning ahead put our staff in a position to budget for this period and we expect all our employees to come back.”
Some $150,000 in renovations later, Taus says he is eager to show off the Fox’s new look beyond the updates he has been posting to the Fox and Fiddle Facebook group. Everything from the dining room to the kitchen to the washrooms, plus new furniture and high-end televisions is brand new.
“I would love to be open right now with this gorgeous new venue, new menu, new everything. We’re ready to go to show everybody the hard work and beautiful reno that’ s been happening for the past month and a bit,” says Taus.
The Fox — and likely every other law-abiding establishment in Ontario — missed out on the gold mine that is St. Paddy’s Day but Taus says that extra time has given work crews the time and space to work safely (and distantly) to have everything ready to go in time for the anticipated reopening notice from the province.
What rules that reopening will operate under are up for debate. The Fox has made preparations to allow for physical distancing among patrons and staff.
“Nothing has been set in stone, there has been lots of speculation. If I’m only allowed 50 per cent capacity, am I only going to have to pay 50 per cent of my bills? Because, as soon as we open the doors, the bills go back to 100 per cent.”
Another reality facing owners and operators is people might decide to stay home for a while.
“Are people going to come out in droves? Are people going to be paranoid? Will people still be conscientious about social distancing? Or, are people ready to get out and focus on our new normal?”
Taus escaped making decisions about whether to operate a take-out and delivery model due to the renovations and acknowledges many of his fellow restaurant and bar owners have had a tough go of it through the pandemic.
“I stay in close contact with a lot of the local owners. They’re working hard. Whether the rent subsidies from the government are helping or labour subsidies, I don’t know, but I do know they are trying to embrace it by having fun with it, coming up with new menus and new deals,” says Taus. “Whether it’s a locally-owned Churchills, which is doing great things, or whether it’s even more of a corporate set up, they’re trying to do their basics and trying to keep their names out there.”
The Fox and Fiddle marked a milestone during the closure: 10 years in business. Taus promises a safe, socially distanced celebration once they get back up and running.
“When we open, we’re doing a 10-year anniversary party, St. Paddy’s Day — we’ll even do a Cinco de Mayo party,” Taus says as he chuckles, not entirely joking. “Any party that we missed is going to be all rolled up into one.”
He says it’s the least he can do for his regular patrons, who he has remained in contact with. “I’ve been sending lots of pictures and video of the renos and everyone’s excited to get back.”
Asked how he plans to navigate uncertain economic times, Taus says he “plans for the worst. I crunch some numbers,” for the worst-case scenario of restricted capacity. He believes it will take an innovative business community to not only thrive — but survive.
“We don’t know how restrictions are going to be policed if we’re only allowed a certain capacity. Plus, how are people going to go on a Tinder date and stay six feet away? Someone will figure out a way.”