Londonlicious gets a makeover

Londonlicious, the city’s flagship restaurant festival relaunches with a new organizer and an expanded local focus

Photo: Andrew Fleet and Jennifer Wyant of Growing Chefs! Ontario

LONDONLICIOUS, THE TWICE-A-YEAR food festival showcasing many of the city’s independent restaurants, has been absorbed by Growing Chefs! Ontario (GCO), a London-based non-profit that unites chefs, growers, educators and community members in children’s food education projects.

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According to GCO executive director Andrew Fleet, while the overall aim of getting Londoners out to support their favourite restaurants — and experience new ones — remains the same, diners can expect to see a few changes in how the Londonlicious program operates.

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“Londonlicious will first run January 20 to 30, traditionally among the slowest weeks of the year for restaurant eating,” says Fleet. “The festival will offer special pricing to encourage Londoners to come out and discover local eateries, but prices will be based on the cost of ingredients. We are keeping the fixed-price menu concept, but we don’t expect restaurants to take a loss right now and prices may be higher than in past years. That shouldn’t be a surprise, considering how much food costs have increased.”

In addition to less structured pricing, customers will also have both dine-in and takeout options available — and both lunch and dinner menus to choose from.

“Without a strong independent restaurant sector, our attractiveness as a convention or event designation can start to come apart at the seams” ―Andrew Fleet

Fleet says when he began reaching out to restaurants about participating in the revamped event, he was met with both excitement and cautious optimism. Many establishments, he notes, are still struggling with pandemic impacts, plus ongoing labour challenges and skyrocketing food costs. The overarching focus for the program is to assist with the industry’s recovery, while at the same time bringing to the forefront the role of local food growers, farmers and suppliers.

“We want the community to understand the importance of supporting local and to be mindful of the power we have as individuals — that our spending choices matter,” says Fleet. “When we direct our spending locally, there is a ripple effect as the money circulates through our local economy.”

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Fleet expects 25 dine-in and 15 takeout restaurants to participate in January, all locally owned and operated.

Additionally, Fleet hopes Londonlicious will spark community conversation about the state of our local food systems. “Canadians have among the lowest food literacy levels in Westernized countries, and it’s something we need to think about,” he says.

Londonlicious gets a makeover Londonlicious Events

With the majority of GCO staff and volunteers being drawn from the local food service industry, along with the organization’s strong ties to local food producers and suppliers, Fleet says taking over the Londonlicious program was a logical step — and presented a new way for the organization to ­support and promote their community partners.

But he also doesn’t hold back regarding the challenged state of the industry, its importance to the overall health of the city’s economy and the part Londoners can play in helping to ensure its recovery.

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“We have a super-cool city, with so many festivals, conventions and events that bring visitors to London. And when people are here, they are looking for delicious and unique dining experiences,” says Fleet. “Without a strong independent restaurant sector, our attractiveness as a convention or event designation can start to come apart at the seams.

“If people can afford to, they should support local restaurants during Londonlicious — and enjoy dining experiences that are truly unique to London.” Londonlicious gets a makeover Londonlicious Events Kym Wolfe

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