Thunder Bay – A Growing Restaurant Culture Forms

Great food as two of the local food truck venders were on site again at City Hall
Great food as two of the local food truck venders were on site at City Hall for City Hall Sounds

Great food as two of the local food truck venders were on site again at City Hall
Great food as two of the local food truck venders were on site at City Hall for City Hall Sounds

THUNDER BAY – A growing restaurant sector is a demonstration that Thunder Bay is growing. There are many new choices out there for local residents and visitors to the city to enjoy.

There are also new choices coming, and new options being proposed. Thunder Bay is increasingly exploring new options for dining.

That growth is being noticed. Not only locally, on social media, but also outside of the city where Ontario Restaurant News has taken notice in its March issue.

Silver Birch
Seafood is an option at Silver Birch Restaurant on Cumberland Street

The magazine, citing Prospector Restaurant CEO Parker Smith says that a lot of the change is being fueled by students from Lakehead University. Those students, Smith told Ontario Restaurant News , “They’re the ones that are really driving the change,” he said, adding wine and cocktail knowledge is also growing.”

Thunder Bay is growing into a community that increasingly is exploring new dining options.

The Staal Foundation Open is not just golf, there is great food to be had too.
The Staal Foundation Open was not just golf, there was great food to be had too.

That growth is exciting. Equally exciting is that it is getting out there into the community and making an impression to a wider audience.

Thunder Bay Manager of Tourism Paul Pepe says, “The diversity and quality of the culinary scene has emerged as an important value added element of the city’s tourism sector.  More and more people are pleasantly surprised – amazed even – with the calibre of culinary offerings in both signature northwest Ontario and international influences.  Every visitor eats when they travel”.

Do Restaurants Make an Economic Difference?

“When put into an economic impact context, if every visitor to the city spends an additional $20 on a culinary experience, over $10.5 million is added to the local economy annually,” states Pepe. “That does not include the spin offs through the local supply chain and impacts to the growing local market community.  That adds almost another $6 million as those dollars re-circulate through the community  Its big”.

“High quality culinary offerings help extend the economic yield and length of stay across all segments – corporate, sport and leisure visitors alike,” stated Pepe.

Online there are several social media sites which have thousands of local residents gathered to share their enthusiasm for the local restaurant scene.

There are just under 5000 enthusiasts at the Thunder Bay Dining page on Facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thunderbaydining/ )

There people are sharing their ideas, reviews, and commentary on the local restaurant scene. As well restaurant owners are able to engage with their customers and solve any issues that do come up.

Changing Tastes Changing Venues

This change in tastes, along with the growing restaurant sector also appears to be taking its toll on the Hoito Restaurant in the Finlandia.

The iconic restaurant is facing harsh financial times.

Part of that issue could simply be in a marketplace that is increasingly offering new options, as people explore those options, their dining out budget is being spent elsewhere.

Fans and friends of The Hoito have started to fund-raise online for money to help save the restaurant. (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-the-finlandia )

The fundraising page states, “We are aiming for a goal of $15,000 which will be donated to the Finlandia Association to help alleviate their dire financial straits. Not only will we be saving a historical building, but these funds will help keep history alive in the City of Thunder Bay. Helping local causes, such as ‘Save the Finlandia’, preserves heritage but more importantly makes our community stronger.”

Thunder Bay Restaurant
I ventured inside the Thunder Bay Restaurant and it reminded me of a place on that popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives says Kim Berly the Dining Lady…

As the restaurant sector in Thunder Bay continues to grow, there will be changes. Some will thrive and others may not survive.

That in the heart of one of the busier retail and shopping areas of the city, the Hoito is struggling could be a message that the iconic landmark, in order to survive needs to make some hard decisions along with receiving support from Thunder Bay residents.

Many of the landmarks in Thunder Bay have faded.

Right now as there are many rising stars in the Thunder Bay restaurant market, it comes down to residents to decide the fate of the hallowed Finlandia Club.