Uptown staple Harmony Lunch to close its doors Jan. 24

Photo by Kash Patel

For its last week in business, Harmony Lunch, uptown Waterloo’s iconic local eatery, has been saying goodbye to the community that has supported it for almost 90 years.

The decision, which was reached sometime in mid-December, came following a series of deliberations and discussions regarding Uptown construction and the impact it would have on the business long-term.

“We had hoped this place would have a faster upswing because of the nature of it and how it is important to the town, but it just didn’t. So from that point on … it became pretty clear what we had to do, and then it was just a matter of making arrangements and doing what was best for the building and the staff — and [lastly] the community,” said Nick Benninger, chef, owner and co-founder of Harmony Lunch.

Benninger is the owner and operator of the Fat Sparrow Group, a collection of restaurants in Uptown Waterloo and Downtown St. Jacobs, such as the Taco Farm, Marbles Restaurant and Nick & Nat’s Uptown 21 in Waterloo, as well as Jacob’s Grill, Stone Crock and various bakery and meat shops in the St. Jacobs area.

The construction has affected a number of their businesses in the Waterloo area, but what impacted Harmony in a unique way was how it hindered accessibility for a number of its clientele.

“This place particularly relies on full access for people — a lot of our clientele are elderly, and access can be an issue, so during construction, they were not coming at all, unfortunately. The student population help[ed] to some degree, but not a lot,” Benninger said.

“Construction took our sales down to about a third of what they used to be, and that led to a lot of losses during the construction phase … the real right decision probably would have been to close before construction. But we weren’t willing to make that call until we lived through the experience.”

As an organization that prides itself on its sustainable and hyperlocal focus from its food to its customer base, the closure of the business has been an unfortunate development for Benninger, who has tried to bring a new legacy to the history of Harmony Lunch.

“One of the [unpleasant] things is that over the few years we’ve been here, we’ve established quite a home for live music: punk and metal and hip hop and all kinds of fringe genres. That’s one of the deeper cuts, is the loss to that as a venue for them to be at,” Benninger said.

“We’re trying our best within our own locations to maybe have some of those shows ourselves, but that’s unfortunate. It was also one of the more interesting and rewarding parts of my time here at Harmony, was seeing us contribute to Harmony’s legacy in a new way that didn’t involve all of the old legacies.”

“That was something that was difficult for us to do: to keep up with what it meant to people and their memories. Making a new slice of ‘Harmony’ for the punks and metalheads was a cool thing to be able to do,” he said.

In their last few weeks of business, the community support for Harmony Lunch has been overwhelming, with images and community stories being shared on their social media pages on a daily basis.

As Harmony says goodbye, Benninger thanked the community for the support they gave this project, which began in 2016 when the Fat Sparrow Group took over Harmony.

“People were fiercely loyal and passionate about this building — whether they loved or hated us — they’ve all come out to say their goodbyes last week and this week, it’s been incredibly busy. We’re happy for that,” Benninger said.

In light of these events, Benniger encourages others to support other businesses in the uptown area — especially those that have been affected by the construction — before it’s too late.

“I would encourage people to make more of an effort to do so because we aren’t the only ones in the core that have felt pain from all the construction, and everybody needs business back to normal as soon as possible,” Benninger concluded.

“Don’t wait for the farewell tour to go say goodbye to your favourite places.”

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