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Monday Morning ‘MUG’ing: Ahead of the curve

This week’s Monday Morning ‘MUG’ing chats with restauranteur Bianca Garofalo.

THUNDER BAY -- It was in the early 2000s that Bianca Garofalo started thinking that Thunder Bay’s dining scene could use some trendy, sophisticated restaurants. She met plenty of naysayers, of course; people who said that Thunder Bay wasn’t ready for anything other than the sports bars and pubs it already had.

However, she persisted in her belief that a high-end, lounge-style place that served more than the usual “meat and potatoes” would be popular. In 2006, she started Lot 66, which is successful to this day. After several years, though, she took a “leap of faith” to start Bight on the waterfront.

“The city had been working on redevelopment of the marina for decades. I grew up with this debate throughout my youth, about how to better utilize the waterfront, so when there was finally a plan for redevelopment in 2008 or 2009, I was really excited,” Garofalo recalls.

Her business partner at Lot 66 wanted to remain on Court Street, so they parted ways and Garofalo teamed up with Allan Rebelo and Katrina Oostveen to submit a proposal for a restaurant. “It was a leap of faith I wanted to take, because I really believed the space down there was going to be something very special,” Garofalo says.

Bight opened in 2012 with Rebelo as head chef. Two years later, when the couple that owned the Italian restaurant Giorg (across from the courthouse) decided to retire after 26 years, Garofalo and Oostveen decided to buy it and put their mark on it. El Tres on Red River Road followed in 2017.

Garofalo was right - she wasn’t the only one who wanted a more elevated dining experience. All of the restaurants she started are enduringly popular, and El Tres, in particular, attracted large numbers of people in the first months, earning a reputation as a restaurant that was difficult to get into.

When COVID-19 restrictions resulted in the shutdown of their businesses, Garofalo, Rebelo and Oostveen had to act quickly. Because their menus didn’t translate very well to takeout, they redeveloped a menu more appropriate for reheating. They started deliveries and takeout once a week, and also sold groceries through Bight, particularly items such as yeast and flour that people had a hard time finding at supermarkets.

Since they have had to lay off most of their staff, the three owners have been busy, cooking, taking orders and doing dozens of deliveries themselves. “You roll up your sleeves and you do what you gotta do,” says Garofalo.

“We’ve made do with what we can,” she says. “Now we’re waiting for the reopening plan, see what that looks like.”