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Food festival aims to boost struggling Tri-City eateries

The first-ever Taste of the Tri-Cities runs for five weeks, starting Feb. 15, with about 50 restaurants in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody taking part in the food festival.

When Kyle O’Genski became a part owner and CEO of Patina Brewing Co. last fall, he got some blowback from friends about switching careers during a pandemic.

Like most business sectors, the hospitality industry had not fared well since last March when the lockdowns started and physical distancing measures took effect.

But the Port Coquitlam brew pub on Marpole Avenue — which opened March 6 — was doing better than other eateries, O’Genski said, largely due to its product, reputation (former mayor Greg Moore and his wife are co-owners), location and community outreach.

This and next month, Patina will be one of about 50 restaurants taking part in a new initiative aimed at bolstering business during the industry’s slower season.

The Taste of the Tri-Cities is a campaign that launches after Valentine’s Day, from Feb. 15 to March 19, and will be similar to the Dine Out festival in Vancouver but without the set menus, said Stephanie Rennie, the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce’s operations director.

Instead, participating restaurants, pubs and cafés will offer food specials — not available on regular menus — and/or free appetizers and desserts. For Patina, it’s serving up an in-house smoked brisket bunwich with a choice of side and house made coleslaw, for $18.

Meal orders can be placed while dining in or through take out to accommodate for the pandemic physical restrictions, said Chamber CEO Michael Hind.

Taste of the Tri-Cities is organized by Tri-Local, a new partnership between the cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody as well as the local chamber and five organizations: Austin Heights BIA, Downtown Port Coquitlam BIA, Port Moody & Co., Shop Local and the Tri-City News.

Its name was first used about a decade ago for homelessness fundraisers in the Tri-Cities; its organizers, Sandy and Cathy Burpee, granted permission for Tri-Local to reinvent the moniker for a different drive, to assist struggling restaurants during the pandemic.

Hind said that local business owners and operators are exhausted, and are finding it difficult to keep their companies or stores afloat with the stalled economy.

Most companies were caught off guard if they didn’t have an online presence, he said, though the federal government’s wage subsidy helped to keep staff.

“Everyone has been in this dog fight and we’re itching to get out,” O’Genski said of business owners. “I think to have a campaign like the Taste of the Tri-Cities can support business but it also be a great connector for the community during these tough times.”

• Visit tasteofthetricities.com to see the participating restaurants. The Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce will also run a social media contest for restaurant gift cards.