Sheepskin blankets, open-flame heaters and $12,000: How Farmhouse Tavern winterized their patio by building a barn
After eight years, Farmhouse Tavern finally has its own barn. The Junction Triangle restaurant’s new outdoor patio—built shortly after the province shut down indoor dining for a second time this year—is an appropriately rustic shelter, featuring element-blocking wood walls and a sloped roof, sheepskin throws on every seat and open-flame heaters between tables to keep diners warm. We spoke with owner Nancy Thornhill about the restaurant’s fast-paced barn-raising, and how she plans to keep things cozy (and delicious) throughout the cold winter months.
Step 1: If you build it, they will come
In the summer, Farmhouse Tavern’s patio fit 27 people, but it was uncovered and unheated—meaning the restaurant was planning to depend on seating guests inside throughout the winter. But when indoor dining was, once again, shut down on October 9, Thornhill knew she needed to winterize the patio—and fast. Thornhill enlisted construction and masonry firms to build what they’re calling “The Barn.” They did the work for about $12,000 in just three days. The Barn can seat 27 physically distanced patrons—the same number as the original patio—but sheltered from the elements. A corrugated steel roof has yet to be built. “When that happens, we’re going to have a barn raising,” Thornhill says, “but we’ll stagger the party so we don’t have too many people.”
Step 2: Make a (literally) hot new menu
As with many restaurants that have new, pandemic-friendly patios, Farmhouse is planning to get thematic with their winter menus, mapping out seasonally themed snacks and drinks—think mulled wine and maple syrup snow candy—to get patrons into a festive mood once the snow starts to fall. One of Thornhill’s big ideas is raclette, the oozy Alpine dish that involves melting cheese over potatoes, charcuterie and anything else that goes well with cheese. “Each table might have their own raclette grill,” Thornhill says, “which will actually generate even more heat to keep people warm.”
Step 3: Plan for continuous change
Thornhill says Farmhouse will resume indoor dining as soon as the Ontario government says they can. But she’s taken taken steps to ensure the restaurant is making money even in the event of further restrictions: she’s now selling pantry items such as house-made ketchup and barbecue sauce, she’s turned part of the space into a small bottle shop, and there’s Farmhouse-branded merch for customers to bring home with takeout orders to enhance their at-home dining experiences.
Step 4: Engage the community
Thornhill took over ownership of Farmhouse Tavern in July, and will celebrate her six-month anniversary in January by offering $6 menu items. She’s also partnered with Romero House, a charity down the street, to provide brunch service for two families that use Romero’s services each weekend—on the new patio, if they like. “There’s research that shows that kids who sit together with their families for a meal once a week are more successful,” she says. “So I thought, well, that’s simple. We can offer that.”
Farmhouse Tavern, 1627 Dupont St., 416-936-8547, farmhousetavern.ca