In the dead of winter downtown Charlottetown restaurants benefit from 14th annual food event

Shorter days, longer nights, windchill temperatures that dip into the minus twenties (or colder); late January and early February can be challenging, especially for businesses trying to entice customers out of their cozy homes. After all, it’s easy to arrive home after a day at work and want to settle in for the evening rather than heading back out in the cold.

Enter Winterdine. Now in its 14th season, the food event was created to make those dark days of winter a little more pleasant, with the offer of fine dining at a fixed price. Held over three weekends in January and February, the goal of the dining festival is to be “A Toast to Winter”. Organized by Downtown Charlottetown, the participating restaurants are all part of the Business Improvement Area (BIA) of Charlottetown, and its goal as stated on its website, is to “focus on projects that will improve living and commerce in Downtown Charlottetown and rejuvenate the City core into an exciting place to live, work, and play.”

Dawn Alan, executive director of Downtown Charlottetown explained the origins of Winterdine, “As any grand idea, it’s not original, it was stolen.” Alan sits on the board of the executive of Downtowns Atlantic Canada and the board of Downtowns Canada, and she describes the various BIAs she works with across the country as “grand sharers.” “Winterdine was a version of what happens yearly in Toronto, called Winterlicious. No matter where it takes place or what version, or what it’s called across the country, because there are many, it is specifically meant to entice people off their cozy couches in the winter and to get out, mingle, meet some friends, eat some good food and support local, and it’s an economic driver in the downtown.”

Typically between 20 and 22 restaurants participate in the event. Each restaurant creates a three-course meal that is offered at either $28 or $38 per person. In 2019, 20 restaurants in the downtown core are taking part in Winterdine and are now taking reservations. The event happens over three weekends (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), and seats fill quickly so Alan suggests making your reservations early.

“So when you look at the Winterdine website, what you’re encouraged to do is look through and choose the menu of your choice. It might be a restaurant that you’ve never thought to go to, but that’s where you end up because you’ve chosen your menu,” Alan said. By offering special menus at a fixed price, the hope is that diners may choose to experience new restaurants for the first time. Some restaurants will be offering the same menu each weekend, while others have a unique meal planned for each weekend. There are also vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options available at some restaurants (when a reservation is made, those dietary choices should be mentioned to the restaurant for proper preparation).

Dawn Alan, executive director of Downtown Charlottetown looks forward to the Winterdine festival //photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Alan points out that Winterdine also becomes a showcase for the restaurants’ chefs who are creating the menus. “Now we have an opportunity to feature the chef… It says specifically in our invitation to the restaurants, ‘think outside the box’ and to highlight the expertise of your chef.”

The financial impact to the community is substantial. “It’s approximately a million dollar economic impact in the community every year. It really has become quite an economic driver and a phenomenon in the downtown,” Alan said.

Liam Dolan was the owner of The Olde Dublin Pub for 35 years, sits on the board of Restaurants Canada, and is on the events board with Downtown Charlottetown. He has been involved with Winterdine from the get-go. He acknowledges the boost that programs like Winterdine give to restaurants, “It tremendously helps the restaurant industry as a whole, because it just gives people a reason to get out and enjoy the restaurants we have here in Charlottetown,” he said. “If you didn’t have that push, you just wouldn’t get people out [in the winter]. A lot of people get together and make an outing of it.”

Taste of India is participating for the first time //photo credit: Kenny Vail/Prevail Creative

Dolan said, “It gets a lot of restaurateurs through the winter months, when it’s flat. You get those three weekends [of Winterdine] and then right afterwards you have Valentine’s, so really you get four weekends of encouraging people to come out and eat. It’s a very big part of the winter business.”

This year also marks the 5th year that the People’s Choice award is part of Winterdine. Diners are encouraged to vote for their favourite menu online which also gives them a chance to win a $75 gift certificate to one of the participating restaurants. Dolan appreciates that the award ups the ante. “It makes the restaurant think more about the menu, it’s better for the consumer, it’s good for everybody.”

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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