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Pandemic Interview with Nick Di Donato, President of Liberty Group

     The ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is changing our world in ways none of us saw coming. In this series of conversations with movers and shakers from our industry, we’re taking a look at how the pandemic has already transformed nightlife and what changes are still on the horizon. Hoping to find out what’s next for our city, we’ve lined up interviews with experts in various areas relating to nightlife.

In this instalment we hear from Nick Di Donato, CEO of Liberty Group and one of the most influential nightlife leaders in Canada responsible for many world renowned venues like Liberty Grand, Casa Loma, Blueblood Steakhouse and CIBO to name a few.

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 How much of an adjustment has working from home been for you?

It has been challenging trying to operate a business which is usually about interpersonal relationships and getting together from home.

 Have you found takeout options for your venue of value, or decided against it?

We have implemented take out for most of our restaurants where it made sense.  Cibo Wine Bar was a given. The food style, casual comfort food,  lends itself to being able to put into takeout containers and hold well during delivery.

With BlueBlood Steakhouse, we were incredibly surprised at how many people have gravitated to high end food. I believe it is because people became tired of the traditional take out food and wanted to have special high end dinners for events which had to be held at home. Birthday’s, Anniversaries all had to be celebrated at home for the past year, why not make it special.

 Did COVID-19 change how you foresee the nightlife scene in the future?

It may take another year, but with the advent of the vaccine and a control on this pandemic, I believe people will all go back to what they were doing.  Humans are a social creature. We need to be with people and share experiences.  The nightclubs provide that experience on a regular basis. We will be back stronger than ever.

 How did COVID-19 affect your management team and staff?

We had to lay off almost 1,000 people during the pandemic.  This was the hardest part of the entire situation for me.  All of these people left without work through no fault of their own.  Many of these team members have moved on to new fields of work and may never return to the hospitality industry.  It is a great loss for all of us.

 I’m sure you’re not used to having so much free time, how do you manage your day?

I have a lot more free time then I have ever had, and im in bed much earlier than I have ever been used to.  Most of my time is focused on pivoting and finding new ways to keep the business moving forward. We created CiboMarket.com which is an online grocery service which is doing extremely well.  With the delivery service we have also moved into specialty gift baskets which people can order from the platform as well.

Early in the pandemic, we added a new family member,  Sheva, a beautiful Cane Corso.  She has helped me stay in shape with her endless energy and need for multiple walks daily.

 What are your preferred methods of communication when collaborating remotely with your team and keep them engaged and motivated for the eventual return?

Most of our communication has been online.  We have moved away from too many head office meetings and I try to work one on one with team members.

 

 What lessons, if any, have you learned during the pandemic?

I have learned that we as a society are resilient.  Whatever is thrown our way, we will recover. From a personal perspective, I have had to be more resilient then ever, prepare for the worst and be ready for a recovery.

I have also learned how important it is to be surrounded by a supportive family that helps you get through the toughest of times.   Being at home really gave me the opportunity to bond with my boys. Justin, who is a doctor providing us insight during this pandemic and Luca a Lawyer helping us navigate through all the legal issues involved throughout.

 How do you feel about an eventual return to doing what you do best and provide nightlife for our city?

Hospitality is in my blood. I will always continue in the field and evolve to keep Liberty Entertained Group at the forefront of the Toronto nightlife scene.

 Have you learned any new skills in the past few months?

Maneuvering through the endless litany of paperwork and questions required to access support for Government subsidies.

  Do you have any new ideas or plans for your venues that you can share with our readers?

We have always had a diverse portfolio of properties, I know how we approach things in the future will always include a contingency plan to ensure we are ready for anything that is thrown our way.  Nothing in this world is a sure thing any more to me.   Be prepared for the best and the worst.

Thanks for your time Nick and letting our readers delve inside your life during this quarantine.  I’m sure they will enjoy reading your perspective on what we’re all dealing with.

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