By Marie Briscoe
Like all restaurants, Erling’s Variety has ridden a rollercoaster during the COVID-19 pandemic, adjusting to new rules and struggling to stay in business. Now it’s living up to its name by adding a “variety store” to try to attract more customers.
Erlings first appeared on the Glebe restaurant scene in 2013. Tucked away on Strathcona Avenue near Bank Street, it has become a popular destination for those who enjoy good food and friendly service. It is a family-run restaurant, spearheaded by owner Liam Vainola.
Vainola has had to pivot a number of times since last spring to keep his customers and staff safe and to keep his restaurant alive. He has had to be creative and at times move away from his original restaurant concept, but he credits “cooks, servers and friends from years past who have really helped me through this difficult time.”
The restaurant’s story during the pandemic is a familiar one. It initially shut down completely, then began offering delivery of three-course Sunday dinners. Vainola was back in the kitchen
for this and incorporated a number of family favourites into the menu.
When restaurants were allowed to open patios, Erling’s obtained permission from the City of Ottawa to build one in front of the restaurant. Vainola’s uncle helped out, and the new patio appeared almost overnight. Vainola hired limited staff for the summer months and welcomed back customers. Takeout dinners were also available during this period.
Colder weather in the fall made it difficult to keep the patio going, but the indoor space was reconfigured to meet provincial guidelines and ensure safe social distancing. But not everyone was comfortable eating inside. A few tables were kept in use outside until the patio finally had to be taken down for the winter.
If you have visited Erling’s Variety, you know it is a relatively small restaurant; with tables taken out to ensure proper distancing, capacity has been cut in half. Vainola toyed at one point with closing the restaurant and did shut down for a few weeks to consider his options. He decided to continue with indoor dining, takeout and Sunday home delivery. Then he came up with another innovation – he added a new variety store just inside the front door. The restaurant was named after Vainola’s grandfather who was a grocer, so including a store seems fitting.
Erling’s Variety Store offers specialty items and possible stocking stuffers and gifts for Christmas, from food and
wine to local crafts. The current food options include local cheeses, cured meats, homemade dips and preserves, cooking oils, a variety of seafood conservas, coffee, chocolate, kale and truffle chips, ancient grains flour for holiday baking and food kits. Keeping alive the celebrated brunch tradition at the restaurant, you can also find toaster waffles, fresh farm eggs and homemade smoked bacon.
The store has an impressive selection of curated wine and beer. If the wine selection seems overwhelming, the knowledgeable staff will do its best to find something that suits your palette.
Non-food items include bath salts, soap and other craft items from local makers. Erling’s former general manager Jessica Gibson is offering her line of organic, handmade beauty products called “Handmade Herbology.”
Erling’s Variety Store is a good option if holiday shopping outside your home is not appealing this year. You can order through the restaurant’s website, and purchases can be picked up or added to your Sunday dinner order for home delivery. You can also drop by the restaurant after 2 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, and the staff will make sure that you have the space to shop safely.
Indoor dining and takeout are offered Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A new menu for Sunday dinner delivery is posted each week, and you can order online through the website.
This is the time to support local businesses who are working hard to provide you with safe options to continue enjoying their products and services. Let’s reward their creativity and get through this difficult time together!
Marie Briscoe is a long-time Glebe resident and graduate of Carleton University. She is retired from the public service.