The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but especially for local businesses. After the extended lockdown last summer, local food establishments really started to feel the crunch. In an effort to support these establishments, the “Taste the Countryside” dining event was started last year, featuring 12 restaurants in the townships of Woolwich and Wellesley.
This year, the 10-day dining event is back, with 22 restaurants in four townships, including Wilmot and North Dumfries. From Sept. 23 to Oct. 3, participating businesses will be offering a fixed price menu at $15 or $35 — depending on the establishment — for dine-in or take-out. To encourage people to dine across the countryside, guests will also be able to enter a ballot for every Taste the Countryside meal that they have by posting a picture of their meal on social media. One of the ballot prizes this year is a train ride, offered by the Waterloo Central Railway, through the countryside from Northfield to St. Jacobs and Elmira and back.
To build on their mission to support local businesses, this year there was an additional requirement for participating restaurants — they had to incorporate at least three local ingredients in their menu. “Local for this year is anywhere in the townships of Woolwich, Wilmot, Wellesley and North Dumfries, so all of our four rural townships, as well as any local farmers’ markets in the area,” explained Jasmine Nanda, an economic development and tourism intern with the Township of Woolwich.
Of course, the event came with its challenges. With many restaurants being understaffed right now, many couldn’t afford to set aside even a few hours to finalise and submit a menu for this year’s event. Moreover, the recent announcement of vaccine passports has added an extra layer of work for businesses. “It takes away from some of their human resources and staffing power to work on side projects like this, so it’s difficult, but businesses have been really resilient and they have been forging forward,” said Jenna Morris, an economic development and tourism officer with the Township of Woolwich.
Last year, the event didn’t see a lot of students, since most of them weren’t on campus. This year, however, they are expecting a much larger student presence.
“There’s a number of transportation services that can bring students out to parts of the countryside and we really encourage students to come, participate and see what the region has to offer. I mean, it’s a totally different experience than the urban cities of the region,” Morris said. “We have a large farming community. We’ve got horse and buggy [rides] in all of the townships. It’s a total experience on its own, so come out and spend a weekend of it.”