Glebe Central Pub – a story of suffering and survival

Dan Rogers is a Glebe resident and co-owner of the Glebe Central Pub at 779 Bank Street.

By Dan Rogers

On August 1, 2019, my business partner Blair Brassard and I took over what was then known as Pints and Quarts, located conveniently between Second and Third avenues, in the appropriately named Glebe Central building.

We had no experience in the bar/restaurant business – other than as good customers! I came from the world of public and government relations; Blair had a background in the forestry and arborist sector.

Fortunately, we had the solid advice and the easy friendship of the previous owner, Amir Aghaei, and his wife, Maryam, who offered us all kinds of help. Our vision was to create the Glebe’s communal living room. We started quickly with a deep clean of the place, changed out chairs at the bar for something a little more comfortable and set to work putting our own stamp on the menu. It seemed to work.

By October, we noticed more patrons coming in the door, almost all neighbourhood people, our people. Both Blair and I live in the Glebe.

Our year-over-year sales numbers were increasing and we were getting great feedback from our customers. We were making plans to re-brand the place as the Glebe Central Pub. We ordered the new sign and made plans to shut down for a week at the end of March to make the transformation complete.

Then the pandemic hit. It was March 16, 2020. Like everyone else, we were stunned by the swiftness of the lockdown.

The first ugly order of business was having to lay off 13 people. We were unable to provide any assurances or advice on how to proceed with their lives. We couldn’t offer any meaningful support. It was a terrible day.

After a week or so, we thought we would try to keep things alive by offering takeout and delivery. We were able to bring back three cooks and we made a go of it. While we didn’t make any money, it did keep us up and running and provided a bit of a distraction from everything going on around us.

While the cooks did their thing in the basement kitchen, Blair and I – with the help of some great friends – began the task of giving the pub its first makeover in about 20 years. We refurbished the men’s room, made some needed changes to the women’s room, re-built the back bar and service area. We changed the lighting, the sound system, upgraded our keg room. Much-needed improvements to the heating and ventilation system were completed. We were busy.

By early summer, COVID regulations eased, and we were allowed to open our small patio. It was a lifesaver. Our regular customers and neighbours kept it busy. Later, when more restrictions were lifted, we entered the fall able to seat up to 50 people inside. We rented a storage locker, packed away half of our tables and chairs and created a new seating arrangement to meet the guidelines on social distancing. People slowly started coming inside again. We were doing well until Christmas Eve: the second lockdown.

It was back to work on the inside of the pub. We renovated the kitchen, rebuilt the office, built a new wine cabinet, added new heaters on the patio, painted. We stayed busy.

Here we are, the spring of 2021, more than a year since the pandemic began. Vaccines are being rolled out and our renovations are mostly complete (they never end). The future is looking a little brighter, though I know there is still a way to go, especially with new third-wave restrictions. I think we’ll make it. There is good reason for that.

The friends and neighbours who donated their time and skills to help us are at the top of the list. I’d also like to thank our “regulars”; we’d never have made it without them.

Jim Watson, our mayor, has been a steadfast supporter of our industry and deserves a big thank you. As does our landlord, Ernie Goldstein, who called Blair and me last March to say: “We’re in this together.” Ernie has participated in every program that could help us.

Glebe Central Pub has managed to keep its head above water in a sea of COVID constraints over the past year.   Photo: Dan Rogers

Overall, the governments of Canada and Ontario have done a good job in trying times. Political differences seemingly have been put aside in favour of the public good. The wage subsidy program, the commercial rent relief program, CERB, the small business loans program and the government of Ontario’s more recent $20,000 grant have all helped us to survive. Could things have been done better? Of course. But we all know about hindsight.

Visibility and openness are two of the things that governments should absolutely strive to improve. Making an announcement on a Friday that comes into effect one or two days later is bad decision-making, end of story. The restrictions on our hours of operation are financially punishing. Our business makes (made) most of its sales between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.; making us lock our doors at 10 p.m. is crushing. There is no evidence to suggest this order is founded on anything more than a paternalistic view that people are unable to control themselves.

I would argue people are smarter than that.

Anyway, let’s raise a glass to a warm, sociable summer.

Dan Rogers, co-owner with Blair Brassard of the Glebe Central Pub

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