The Table Vegetarian Restaurant, a Hintonburg buffet eatery that built a large and devoted clientele over 22 years, has closed.
Owner Simon Saab said in an interview that The Table’s last day of operation was April 15, after which he quickly decided to close for good.
Saab said a key factor in his decision was the challenge of finding and keeping workers — an issue that has plagued restaurants in Ottawa and beyond during the pandemic.
“A lot of it was to do with staffing more than anything else. It’s just been difficult to get people,” said Saab.
Before the pandemic, Saab had been able to retain his restaurant’s 18 workers for almost 17 years, he said. But more recently, he was down to seven people, and when three of them came down with COVID-19, he had to shut down The Table temporarily.
“That sped up my thinking (to close),” Saab said.
The Table is one of two long-running Ottawa restaurants to shut down this month after two years of COVID-related hardships.
The Foolish Chicken, now located on Preston Street, but formerly a block north of The Table on Holland Avenue, is to close on Sunday after 15 years in business.
“What happened was we didn’t have the staff and we kind of burned ourselves out,” Rick Boland, co-owner of The Foolish Chicken, said this month in an interview.
Saab said had it not been for the pandemic, he might have kept The Table open for another 15 years. “The staff I had was really running it. I wasn’t involved on a day-to-day basis,” said Saab.
The pandemic also separated The Table from two large chunks of its customer base, he said.
About 30 per cent of The Table’s customers were Tunney’s Pasture workers and another 30 per cent were people who went after dinner to the Great Canadian Theater Company, Saab said. COVID-19 forced the public servants to work from home, while the GCTC was closed for in-person performances for 20 months.
“I think if we stayed open, eventually people would have come back,” Saab said. “But people are still hesitant to go out. I think some people are still not so comfortable with buffets.
“Really, the decision was based on, ‘Do I want to spend another year to five years building it (the business) back to what it was, or are there other things to do?’
“I really had no desire left to continue.”
Saab, who is 65, said he is not retiring and that his real estate portfolio will keep him busy.
He comes from a family of restaurateurs. He father opened the Father & Sons pub in Sandy Hill in 1967, and Saab took it over in 1984. When Saab opened The Table in 2000, his brother took over Father & Sons.
In a 2005 interview with this newspaper, Saab said he chose The Table’s West Wellington location because “the neighbors were health-conscious and concerned about the environment and would appreciate a restaurant like this.”
Saab went on to sponsor Ottawa’s annual Veg Fest events, which were gatherings that promoted vegetarian living that began in 2009 and ran into the mid-2010s.
While Saab eats meat, he saw an opportunity to run a meat-free buffet in Hintonburg, and time proved his instincts correct. Saab, said he is “80 per cent vegetarian … but my background is good food, eating well.”
When Saab opened The Table, many of its dishes were his recipes that he converted to be vegan or vegetarian, he said. Over the years, the restaurant’s top sellers that emerged from its from-scratch kitchen were its tofu fritters with onion chutney and its vegan spanakopita, said Saab.
On The Table’s website and social media, Saab posted Wednesday: “We felt at home wanting to give you memorable times with family and friends around delicious food.
“Twenty-two years now come to an end. We quietly close our doors. We thank you for your support over the years. We leave with the beautiful memories you have given us.”
On Facebook, the post drew almost 700 likes and more than 250 supportive comments.