By: Gurpreet Kambo, News Team Member
Club Ilia reopened last week after being closed for two months for renovations. The restaurant/bar was closed for May and June due to changes that were made to the dining area, kitchen, and menu. Inside, a closed balcony area has been removed and opened up, while a carpeted closed “meeting room” has been built in the back of the venue.
“We’ve changed [ . . . ] the concept based on community feedback,” said Club Ilia general manager, Tina Blakeman, on the subject of the restaurant’s reopening.
“[Some patrons said] areas were too loud, and it [was] hard to hear each other for meetings that were happening. We created spaces, that are either meeting areas or areas that allow separation from the noisier areas of the restaurant [ . . . ] Our sound system allows for different zones to be set up, to change the volume of music, [which] will also help with that.”
Along with the dining area, the menu has been changed to reflect modern tastes and recent changes to the Canada Food Guide.
“Healthier options on our menu was probably the number one thing that people were looking for. More and more people are looking for plant-based protein options, vegan and vegetarian offerings. Being mindful of people who have gluten-intolerance [ . . . ] we wanted to take those people into consideration,” said Blakeman.
“[We’re] trying our best to be available to everyone in the community, and have something that everyone can have something to eat.”
She also noted that the kitchen has added an additional fryer specifically meant for gluten-free frying.
“Anyone that has a gluten intolerance or Celiac’s disease, they can actually have fries. One of the fryers might be used for calamari or fish and chips, where the breading can create cross-contamination in that fryer.
“Having that specifically dedicated fryer so no gluten goes near it, it gives you that option that somebody that comes that has Celiac [disease], they can have a burger, we make our patties here, no gluten in it, gluten-free bun, and they can have fries too.”
Blakeman also adds the kitchen has a new flame-broiled grill.
A keg fridge visible when walking to the entrance of the restaurant has also been built. Massive kegs lay inside that feed the taps in the bar, expanding from eight to 18.
However, she notes, “The food concept has mostly stayed the same. We still have the same customer base; there are favourites on there that we didn’t want to change.”
Club Ilia has been on campus since 2009, though Blakeman has worked for the business for 19 years.
Reflecting on how Club Ilia has changed since opening, she says, “Initially I think we didn’t know what we were.“
“Perhaps we thought we were a wine bar,” she says, noting that there was a wine glass in the old logo. “We thought there was going to be more charcuterie board, tapas, and wine. That was all well and great, we had a handful of professors that would come in,” she added.
“I said to our first general manager, ‘There’s a lot of students walking around, why don’t they come in here?’ [ . . . ] I thought it was a good idea to start marketing to the students [ . . . ] so we started out doing our poutine coupons,” she says, referencing the coupons for free poutine that Club Ilia gives out at the start of each semester.
“It kind of changed the concept from being a wine bar, to being a community space,” she says, adding that the current changes are meant to further this goal that was identified so many years ago. “Anybody is welcome.”