Will the LCBO strike leave Toronto restaurants dry?

As the LCBO’s strike wages on, restaurants in the city of Toronto and beyond are facing a challenge. Save the establishments that use private importers for (often global) bottles of wine, most of the city’s eateries rely on the LCBO for their cocktail programs and wine lists. So, if the primary place to buy the liquor remains shuttered, what are businesses going to do?

Large businesses can order from the wholesale website, but only about 30 varieties are available. That leaves smaller restaurants and those with extensive wine lists in a bit of a pickle. It’s forcing business owners and restaurateurs to get creative

“The closure affects us in ways we didn’t anticipate,” says Sebouh Yacoubian, co-owner of Taline. “Before the shutdown, we could easily restock spirits as needed. Now, our inventory is all over the place, and our par levels are extremely high. Instead of having four bottles of tequila, we now have a case. If this strike goes beyond 14 days and we run out, where do we get more specific products?”

Because the wine at Taline is imported and needs LCBO testing, Yacoubian faces similar concerns with his wine list. “We stockpiled, but our wine stock depletes faster than spirits. Suppliers assure us there won’t be an issue, but it’s never guaranteed. We have about a week left before we run out.”

Colin Li, the owner of Hong Shing Restaurant, has similar concerns. “It definitely affected the way we run our business and manage our inventory. We typically do not stock a lot of alcohol on a regular basis, so the strike has really interrupted our workflow and cashflow, as we had to overstock more than usual,” he says. “We have to be creative in creating our drink specials to make sure we do not deplete our inventory before the strike ends. We stocked enough wine for us to last for two to three weeks.”

Those least affected? Businesses who are directly working with local suppliers. “General Assembly Pizza has always sold wines from small Ontario producers focussed primarily in PEC and the Niagara regions,” says Ali Khan Lalani, its owner and sommelier. “We buy the wines directly from the producers and have built meaningful relationships with the winemakers themselves. The current LCBO strike has no impact on the supply of wine to General Assembly Pizza.”