Joe Pillitteri, local businessman, stand-up comic and community supporter, is finding innovative ways to help local restaurants and wineries.
And in doing so, he is encouraging his many social media followers to do the same.
The two industries, both so important to the local economy, and employers of many Niagara area people, are struggling, he says, and need local support.
Pillitteri, known for his comedy routines, couldn’t be more serious when he asks for help for these local businesses. Recovery is on its way, he says, but they need cash flow to hang in until then, to ensure they’re still in business when it comes.
Wineries missed out on the tourist traffic of spring, summer and fall last year, he says. Bus traffic, U.S. and overseas tourists just weren’t there for them, after investments many had made to accommodate larger groups of people.
Like all businesses, they found ways to supplement what they were losing by marketing to locals, with curbside pickup orders and free deliveries, trying to do whatever they could to bolster their sales. Although it helps, it doesn’t make up for what they’ve lost, he says.
So Pillitteri picked up on #openlocalwine, an initiative of two friends of his, “great wine industry peeps in Michigan who were kind enough to include their Canadian friends in the fun.”
This is the second year for the U.S. initiative, the first here in Niagara, thanks to Pillitteri.
It’s just one day, Saturday, April 10, to commit to drinking local wine, he says. And while many of us are already doing this, he adds, it’s a day to not only pick a local wine and enjoy it over dinner, but to also publicize it by posting photos on social media, to encourage others to do the same, showing support for Niagara wineries.
“When you think about local wines and what they mean to our economy, we have to make sure they get through this. It’s so great to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and with the arrival of vaccines, and the reopening of the border not too far off, we can help businesses with their cash flow, so that when we get back to whatever normal is, they’ll still be here.”
He’s doing what he can to help hard-hit local restaurants as well, with his weekly staff lunches.
Every Friday — Thursday this week due to the Easter holiday — the president of Lakeview Vineyard Equipment buys lunch from local restaurants for about 20 staff members.
They each make their choices from the menu, lunch is ordered, and to encourage others to do the same, Pillitteri makes a video when he picks up the food to post on social media.
Although he’s not criticizing the restrictions in place, he says the unpredictability has been hard on restaurants.
“You can open with 10 people, you can open now with 50, no, you can’t be open. How do you manage staff, make plans? We feel obligated to do what we can to help.”
He’s been to many local restaurants in recent weeks, including Bricks & Barley, which opened less than three years ago by three local families, and was so popular it was sometimes hard to get a table there.
“It’s an awesome spot,” says Pillitteri, a beautifully restored tractor dealership, and now with an enclosed, heated patio — an example of what restaurants have to do, he adds.
He asks his followers to “check out every restaurant close to you, and get takeout tonight. It means a great deal to people who are trying to keep going right now, and the restaurant business could use any boost it can get.”
When he and the Lakeview staff sit down to eat, he says, “we have a little chat. We recognize how fortunate we are to stay open, to be an essential business. We recognize the importance of living in a safe place, and we recognize our friends in the restaurant business. We support them from home, as well, not just at work. We put great reviews online, and encourage people if they feel like going out, to book a reservation, enjoy one of the restaurants they’ve been going to for years, or get takeout. Support them any way you can.”