Three Windsor-Essex hospitality businesses 'shift' to land tourism awards

A handful of Windsor-Essex businesses were honoured Wednesday evening at the annual Ontario Tourism awards.

Windsor Eats was the big winner, taking home top honours in three categories, including innovation in cycling for its wine trail rides, as well as awards for both collaboration and innovation in festivals and events for its outdoor food hall concept at Lanspeary Park.

”It was all about supporting restaurants, and chefs and businesses that didn’t necessarily have a patio or place to operate when indoor dining was restricted,” says Windsor Eats co-founder, Adriano Ciotoli.

Also winning for innovation in beverages was Phog Lounge and Meteor, which launched the highly popular Gravy Train amid the pandemic, where a food and drink order was accompanied by a musician — at your doorstep.

Iron Kettle Bed and Breakfast was recognized for its shift to bread making in the category of innovation in accommodation.

“I have flour, I have the ability to make bread, I’ve done it before,” says Benjamin LeBlanc Beaudoin. “How can I make it work so that that bread that I make also brings bread to my table.”

When the pandemic hit, LeBlanc Beaudoin, the owner of Iron Kettle Bed and Breakfast had to make some hard decisions about how to pay the bills.

While he was forced to shut down his bed and breakfast, he quickly married his history as a chef with his existing business to offer bread and other foods.

“I was already a busy business, so Instead of stopping and turning, I just shifted gears while running and haven’t stopped,” he says.

Tourism industry onlookers say Canada’s tourism sector was hit first by the pandemic — and hit the hardest.

“Everyone talks about the bad, but there really was a lot of good that happened,” says Ciotoli, who agrees there’s some room in the conversation for success stories.

The awards are a re-affirmation, says Ciotoli, for hard work, creativity and resilience.

“For such a small region compared to others like Toronto or Ottawa, Windsor-Essex, we’re always punching above our weight class with what we’re showcasing and offering,” Ciotoli says.

“All of these businesses shone a brighter spotlight on Windsor-Essex yesterday and again on a provincial stage, and again, people were taking notice,” says Gordon Orr, who was in Kingston for the awards and tourism summit, the first in-person event of its kind in 19 months.

Orr says even with eased restrictions the road back to pre-pandemic levels will be a long one.

But he says the return of concerts at Caesars, along with steady increases for hotel stays year-over-year are strong indicators that a rebound is in motion.

“We know we’re going to be back, we’re going to be strong, but we do have a ways to get there.”

Many businesses are looking ahead to 2022, hoping for an escape from the weight of the pandemic.

“We’ve been planning as if 2022 is going to be a bit more normal. Maybe not 100 per cent normal, but there will be some normalcy,” says Ciotoli, who is hoping to bring back a number of festivals next spring and summer.

Meantime, he hopes other businesses see hope in a resurgence.

“The creativity has really led to finding new revenue streams for businesses that can help them in the long run when this is all done,” Ciotoli says.