Phase 2 has just begun in Nova Scotia, and while some restaurants are welcoming customers inside from their patios now that indoor dining is allowed, one Halifax eatery is coming back to life entirely from a long COVID-induced hibernation. EDNA Restaurant on Gottingen Street shut its doors in March 2020 when COVID first hit; now more than a year later, four former EDNA staff members are reopening the beloved dining destination on Wednesday as owners.
One of the bigger changes from the old EDNA? “We’re taking reservations,” says new co-owner Heather Townsend, “just not for brunch.”
But there’s a distinction between accepting reservations and being reservation-only. From working there, the partners know the line EDNA manages to balance between casual and formal, serving quality food while maintaining an easygoing charm in the dining room. It’s a feeling the new EDNA wants to nurture. “We’re keeping space open for walk-ins,” Townsend says. “We still want to be able to encourage people to stop by on a whim.”
For a place that’s been closed for 15 months, a lot has happened in EDNA’s recent history. In January 2020, EDNA and its next-door sibling jane’s next door were bought by Alex Billingsley and Andy Hay. (The restaurant was started in 2013 as a family business run by Jenna Mooers, with help from her mother Jane Wright of the Halifamous jane’s on the common.)
A few weeks later, the pandemic arrived. Billingsley and Hay shuttered EDNA and turned their attention to building jane’s as a take-out model. “When COVID hit and we shut down it just made more sense for Alex to focus on jane because it’s a catering company,” says Townsend. “Rather than have to worry about the two at such an early stage in their ownership.”
“We’re keeping space open for walk-ins. We still want to be able to encourage people to stop by on a whim.”
With EDNA shut down indefinitely, Townsend and her colleagues Cora Tudor and Alex Livingston started planning to open their own restaurant. But then Hay and Billingsley decided to sell one of theirs. “As we were looking for spaces, we were approached about this, about EDNA being for sale,” Townsend says. She and her partners were first in line, with EDNA sous chef Travis Griffon getting on board as well.
“Obviously when that opportunity came up, we jumped at it,” says Townsend. “Because that's all we really wanted anyway.”
The reopened EDNA will largely keep the same staff, menu and atmosphere as before, with 16 tables at current capacity limits. But Townsend says it hasn’t all been blue skies and rainbows. “It’s not easy to open a restaurant when you don't know if you're going to be allowed to open it.”
Despite the challenges, Townsend repeatedly uses the word “lucky” when talking about how she feels these days, coming back to the restaurant business after multiple shutdowns and reopenings.
“This is our first go, whereas other places, other restaurants in town have had to do this multiple times.” Townsend says. “So we’re really feeling for them, and coming into it fresh we're a bit lucky in that sense.”
EDNA is feeling the love from Haligonians who’ve been missing their brunch bowls and seared scallops, their welcoming service and warm window seats. This coming weekend there’s sure to be a crowd outside, waiting patiently and six feet apart, for the restaurant to reopen its doors.
“We have had incredible support,” says Townsend. “It's actually kind of mind blowing how sweet and positive everyone has been. We just feel really lucky.”