Meet the Maker: Tim Pater, Black Dog Hospitality Group

By Andrea Gunn

Kingston restaurateur Tim Pater has seen a lot of changes this past year. The arrival of the pandemic, obviously, forced some unexpected and unwelcome changes on him, but it also gave Pater the opportunity to make some new, positive changes of his own.

Last summer, he decided to go ahead with some long-planned changes to his flagship Kingston restaurant, Le Chien Noir. “This was planned before the pandemic hit; September 20, 2020 would have been the 20th anniversary of Le Chien Noir. The plan was to have a big 20th anniversary party, and then lock the doors, paper the windows, and transform into Black Dog Tavern. The reason? Mostly just 20 years of doing the same thing. I wanted to try something new, and I felt that Le Chien Noir had become pigeonholed as a special occasion-only restaurant. We wanted to do something a little looser, a little more fun. But in the summer, when we re-opened for takeout and delivery, Chien Noir’s menu really didn’t suit takeout. So, I thought, ‘Why not experiment with some of those ideas for the tavern now?’ So we went through the summer serving the tavern menu, first for takeout, and then at the restaurant when the patio was opened. We made the switch to Black Dog Tavern back in June, changed the signage, the menu, as much as we could. It’s the menu and atmosphere that changed the most: the music is a little more rock-and-roll and the food is more elevated comfort food.”


Some of the “elevated comfort food” favourites of the old Le Chien Noir menu have carried forward to the Black Dog offerings, like its poutine topped with duck confit, triple cream Brie velouté, and green peppercorn/Cognac demi-glace. It’s joined by new casual options like burgers and sandwiches. The menu was carefully curated to best serve takeout customers. “In terms of COVID and safety,” Pater says, “we wanted to create menus that didn’t need so many people in the kitchen, for all the prep. So, we just made them a little more simple and smaller.” But he expects Chef Rikki Wieczorek, who recently took over the helm in the Black Dog kitchen, will soon add her own spin to the menu with new items.

Chef Rikki recently starred in a Tourism Kingston “Together at Home for the Holidays” video, showing viewers how to put together a charcuterie board featuring local meats and cheeses, and easy-to-make pickled vegetables.

As of February 10, when Kingston moved into “Green-Prevent” status post-lockdown, Black Dog Tavern and Pater’s other restaurants – Atomica, Harper’s Burger Bar, and Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse – have been open for limited in-person dining, as well as takeout and delivery. All four restaurants continue to offer “Kingstonlicious” packages for both takeout and in-person dining.

Dianne’s “Down East” fish chowder is on the menu this month as part of a three-course Kingstonlicioius dinner (takeout or dine-in).

Pater’s business model for his restaurants is founded on a few immutable pillars. “First, our staff is family. They are who we are: they keep us going day in and day out. Of course, the customers are important! But if our staff are happy and taken care of, then that will translate into happy customers. Second, you can’t have a healthy business without a healthy community. And for me, a healthy community includes a healthy environment. So that means supporting local producers, using local suppliers, and getting involved in local organizations. Loving Spoonful is an important one for us: it provides access to local, fresh food for people who wouldn’t otherwise have that access. And the more we can support each other locally, the more that our money stays in the local economy.”

All four of Pater’s restaurants utilize takeout packaging that is biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable. “There are a number of restaurants in Kingston that have embraced this,” he says. “In our restaurants, we compost all our organic materials. And it just makes sense to eat what’s fresh and in season, and that means supporting local farmers. We’re really lucky in Kingston to have such a strong farming community in the region.”

Atomica’s plant-based Caesar salad. All takeout packaging from Black Dog Hospitality Group restaurants is biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable.

The last 12 months forced huge changes on Pater’s restaurants, from closing down to providing only outdoor patio service and takeout, to another lockdown, and now another cautious re-opening. And with those changes came hard decisions that had to be made.

“When the pandemic first hit and everything was shut down, I had to lay off more than 100 people,” he says. “And that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. That was tough. But, once the government programs kicked in – and it took a while – and there was support, I felt a lot better. And then, as we opened up, we were able to bring almost our whole staff back. Then with the more recent shutdown in December, I had to lay off a bunch of people again. But we’re really trying to make it work with our staff, in terms of their schedules and how much they can work on EI. It seemed a lot less stressful this time around.”

“Kingston’s really resilient,” he continues, “and while I do worry about small businesses here, our shops and restaurants, I think we’re well-positioned with our post-secondary institutions and government offices here [in supporting small businesses]. We will get to the other side of this pandemic eventually. I just hope that we don’t lose too many local businesses; those are really the fabric of this community. I’d hate for the Kingston landscape to change so much that it’s all national chains. I think that’s the worry of a lot of people. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t a struggle: it is. I try to stay as optimistic as possible, but it feels like this will be a two or three-year recovery.”

With the help of his staff, Tim Pater has worked hard over the years to create restaurants with great food and great ambiance. Over the past year, he really missed the normal sights and sounds of a busy restaurant: the conversations, the noise, and the energy.  Things aren’t quite back to normal yet, but they’re on the right track.