By MELISSA SMITH
It’s time to dine — more comfortably and with more excitement, that is.
Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute (CFWI) reopened the on-campus Benchmark restaurant on Jan. 26 after about a month of renovations costing “within the $180,000 budget.”
Jon Ogryzlo, dean of the college’s CFWI, and Melissa Plamondon, business development co-ordinator at the CFWI, said on Jan. 24 the CFWI “is ready” for the renovation’s deadline that was expected three days later. And ready the restaurant was.
For the last week, the institute has been celebrating the reopening of Benchmark, the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus’s teaching restaurant for the college’s hospitality programs and the CFWI’s culinary programs.
“You know, Scott Construction I am very pleased with,” said Ogryzlo. “I’m very happy with the architect and contractor. They really bent over backwards to get everything done.”
The restaurant reopened with a “soft opening” Jan. 25. The invite-only opening on Jan. 27 hosted about 150 industry workers from the Niagara region, and today the CFWI hosts the sold-out Caps, Corks and Forks event for the ultimate battle of beer and wine.
“Last Friday, people loved the new look with the bar and new menu. They said it was a great addition, a great change. It is more comfortable, more friendly and more welcoming,” said Ogryzlo.
Students will now be visible to all diners at the restaurant, preparing and making items from the menu at the cooking station that is a part of the new 23-foot-long bar.
“Before renovations, you were lucky to see a chef come out of the back kitchen and you couldn’t see the students work,” said Ogryzlo. “With the restaurant’s large windows, it had always been about looking out, but now we are also focusing people on the inside of the restaurant and the students in it.”
Gates to the restaurant’s old entrance were removed and the ceilings were lowered. White oak walls, ceiling lighting and a lit-up Benchmark sign illuminate the way to the dining area. A manned front desk now greets visitors coming into Benchmark.
“The old entrance had gates, and you didn’t really know if it was the restaurant or not. Now you can walk in, and it’s right there for you to come in and enjoy,” said Ogryzlo.
Individual visitors can “come sit and have a casual bite to eat” along the bar-top made of blackened steel panels, white oak, and a white marble top, said Ogryzlo, adding the bar area highlights the six college-brewed draft beers and “bottles from other locations too.”
Behind the bar is an espresso machine and temperature-controlled wine refrigerators.
Vistors can enjoy Benchmark restaurant by sitting at the new branded tables in the dining area covered with black placemats, polished glasses and shiny cutlery.
Not only is the appearance and atmosphere of the restaurant revitalized, but so is the menu. It mimics the style of a student’s educational book report cover including a separate sheet with recipes to take home.
In each menu, a feature page on the CFWI students and culinary-related facts entertain the reader.
“It’s going to be very educational,” said Plamondon. “The pairing of wine is now on the menu as a suggestion of what to pair with each meal listed.”
New to Benchmark is tapas nights, running Wednesday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The restaurant is open to the public whether it be a walk-in or a reservation.
Reservations can be made by calling 905-641-2252 ext. 4619 or by visiting www.niagaracollege.ca/benchmark, where the new lunch and dinner menus can be viewed too.
“It’s basically all about the students. We love it when the public comes and supports us too,” said Ogryzlo.
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