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Restaurant owners thankful for Taste of Saskatchewan

The community came out to enjoy the Taste of Saskatchewan after more than a year of health restrictions.

SASKATOON - Local restaurant owners Raj Mangat and James Villanueva said their businesses managed to survive the health restrictions implemented by the Saskatchewan Health Authority to lessen the impact of the ongoing pandemic in the province. They continued their operations minus in-person dining for more than a year and thanked the community for supporting them in other ways when movement in the city was restricted.

Mangat operates Lavva Kitchen & Bar located in Broadway Avenue while Villanueva owns Katmu Family Restaurant at 22nd Street. They were among the 30 local diners and eateries that joined the week-long Taste of Saskatchewan at the Kiwanis Memorial Park. From August 10 to 15, locals were treated to a variety of food choices while being entertained by different bands and performers daily.

Mangat said a business owner like him would not survive without the support of their regular customers and members of the local community. “They helped us. The community was very helpful by ordering takeout like Skip The Dishes.

“We have dine-in but with people wearing masks also our staff with gloves on. We were protective of everyone. It was also kind of hard operating with all the health restrictions. It is what it is. We have to follow the protocols and we have to live with it.”

He said the return of Taste of Saskatchewan was also helpful with people excited to enjoy outdoor gatherings again after having limited movement for more than a year. “We have positive response and people want to go to our restaurant. It is separate marketing. It is better for a restaurant to also do their own marketing.”

“We are now [restaurant] fully opened. We saw people started coming back for they have been stuck in their houses for so long. They want to come out and enjoy our meals. We still have social distancing and are not operating at full capacity. We still have tables that must be vacant so people can still feel safe. But this month we’re going to take off the mask restriction since people feel much safer now.”

Villanueva, meanwhile, had just bought Katmu Filipino Restaurant from a previous owner when health protocols were imposed by SHA. Katmu, whose previous owner was from the province of Pampanga in the Philippines, is a word from their local dialect meaning full after a meal.

He said that they used the lockdown and health restrictions to renovate the restaurant located at the corner of 22nd Street and Avenue J North. “We took it as a blessing in disguise. Before, the restaurant is like a bar where a band plays to entertain customers. We changed that into a family dining restaurant.”

After more than two weeks of renovations, they resumed their operations withstood the pandemic through takeout, curbside pickup and deliveries—either their own inhouse service or through online platforms like Doordash, Skip The Dishes, and Uber Eats.

“We welcomed the lockdown since it gave us the chance to renovate the restaurant, but we’re not sure what will happen after that. We have to move on and think of ways on how to operate when the health restrictions were put in place. I also deliver their orders or people use our delivery partners: Doordash, Skip, or Uber.”

He added that Taste of Saskatchewan, now on its 25th year, helped local restaurants like him to have a platform in promoting Filipino cuisine. And the support from non-Filipinos was also overwhelming. “It was crazy. There were a lot of people when we went back to normal, and the reception was good. My concept was to have non-Filipinos try our own cuisine.”

“Us Filipinos we know our own food and sometimes we can cook it at home, the only difference is the taste and how to season it. But it is nice to introduce it to other cultures like Canadians or other people to try our food. And the reception was great. We ran out of the items that we’re selling a number of times. At least the restaurant is just near Kiwanis Park, we can easily refill right away.”