The true heart of a town like Antigonish is the quality of the small businesses, cherished for bringing something special to the community. I have recently fallen in love with a local establishment just past the corner of College Street and Main Street – The Townhouse. My first Townhouse experience was a few weeks ago. The interior was a picture, with the walls filled eclectic musical instruments, and eclectic array of plants to bring life to the wood features. The staff were friendly and the interior was well spaced, making me feel much more comfortable during my first experience eating out since the beginning of the pandemic. I wish I had made an appearance sooner but I will definitely be headed back more frequently.
The Townhouse simply exudes character, and a warm feeling, that makes Antigonish a lot easier to call home. This very character, that warm feeling with pieces that feel as though are from the era of a time past, commonly associated with historic buildings, made me wonder what the history was there. As a history major, I was excited to dive into this rich history with The Townhouse’s current owners, Caitlin and Ryan. Caitlin recalls that the building has been many different restaurants prior to becoming the Townhouse, but notes
“Before it became a restaurant, it used to be a freezer storage space. People in the community could leave their half a cow here and come sign out their cuts of meat. This is before everyone had freezers at home. I believe the first restaurant was Rose Bowl, then Venice Restaurant, then Frescos Trattoria, The Alcove, and now, finally The Townhouse. [Though], I could be missing one in there.”
Having worked in restaurants, and the food and beverage industry for several years, Ryan and Caitlin began looking for a business in the industry they could run themselves. The pair had been living in Vancouver for the last 10+ years. The previous owners of the Townhouse just so happened to be, as Caitlin put it, “looking to sell to like-minded people”. Certainly, Antigonish was a change of pace from Vancouver, but the two couldn’t turn down the offer. The Townhouse was being offered as a turn-key opportunity; it was completely ready for business. Throughout the two years they have been running the Townhouse, they have made their own updates and changes, to create the version of the Townhouse we know and love today.
Most recently, in fact, they changed the well-known green exterior to a popping shade of blue which has given the building new life. During the pandemic, the changes were not simply limited to the décor, but rather their operations as well. The pair stated that for them, the most important thing throughout the whole pandemic has been protecting their staff as well as their guests. Since May, they have been following guidelines set by Public Health and the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia to ensure best practices. In May, The Townhouse had reopened for Takeaway only, and the pair states that their staff has been wearing masks since then. In fact, at the end of June when they reopened for patrons in the dining area, their protocols were intensified.
The pair says that despite their limited space, they have created as safe a place as possible to accommodate their guests. Since the reopening of the dining room, they say,
“Once masks were mandated by the government we now require people who wish to dine at The Townhouse to wear a mask. We removed 50% of our seating, spaced all our tables 6 feet apart, installed several hand sanitizing stations, changed multi use bathrooms to single use and request one guest from each group to leave a contact in the case of an outbreak. There is a multi-step sanitizing method we use for tables and chairs in between guests that takes 10 minutes to complete. We accept both reservations and walk-ins. This is something we did not offer prior to Covid-19. There are now new protocols for staff sick days. It has changed so much of how we do our business. We will continue to change and adapt with the times.”
As employers, Caitlin and Ryan spoke about how difficult it was to let some of their staff go at the beginning of the pandemic due to shortage of work. They said, “As employers, you want to be able to provide for your staff.” With sales down significantly from an otherwise normally steady summer, the pair says it was difficult to fill the dining room. Given the ‘new normal’, survival has been the most important thing for the small business, as they work hard to overcome the challenges set in front of them. They did mention that support for the business has been immense, as the community has banded together to help out in whatever way they can.
Moved by the community’s support, the owners of The Townhouse decided to give back by taking initiative in issues affecting members of the Antigonish Community. This summer in particular, following the wave injustices against communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), The Townhouse decided to use their platform to engage with these issues. The Townhouse first donated a portion of sales from all orders of their delicious Townhouse Fries towards the local Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Since then, Caitlyn and Ryan maintain that it is important to remain engaged with these causes, which has culminated in what the owners explained as:
“…an ongoing donation with our guest tap beer so that $1 from each guest tap sold goes to organizations that support BIPOC communities. Since July 1st, the organization has been ‘The Native Council of Nova Scotia Youth Outreach program’. The Indigenous Youth Program Mandate is to improve immediate & long term social, economic and health outcomes for Indigenous youth living off reserve in NS.”
I think that if anything, the pandemic has taught us to grapple with a new and changing world. Businesses like The Townhouse, who are owned by people willing to support the community as much as the community supports them, are vital in our ‘new normal’. Even with the mask restrictions, and health protocols set in place, The Townhouse offers a warm and welcoming environment for all parties, with good drinks and food to boot. I can safely say that I will be venturing back very soon.