A bureaucrat from the City of Ottawa recently notified Bananas Beach Grill & Rum Shack that their application (complete with letters of recommendation from Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Matthew Luloff, and boasting a January 2021 Community Builder Award) for a renewal of their contract was denied. The city advised that their application failed to meet the criteria. This is their story:
"Almost 10 years ago, when Petrie Island was in desperate need of something fresh and new, we were approached by then Councillor Bob Monette to submit an application. At that time, the only food and beverage option on Petrie Island was a small van that would pull up occasionally and sell bags of chips, chocolate bars and soda.
After a few weeks of trying to figure out our best option, as we only had sand, sand and more sand to work with, we decided to go BIG, with the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. We laid a massive stone patio, built three trailers: one for the Grill, one for the Bar, and one for the Ice Cream Shack. In addition to the patio and trailers, we brought in palm trees, thatch roofing and umbrellas, Tiki patio furniture, beach toys for the kiddies and a sound system to set the tropical vibes off right.
To this day, we don’t believe that the City employees thought we could pull it off. Petrie Island was historically considered a dumping ground... a sand pit and not a site where anyone would beach, much less to eat and be entertained. Without The Friends of Petrie Island, who’s mission is to preserve the ecology of the island and deliver interpretive resources, there really was no other need for people to visit the Island.
For almost 10 years, we operated a successful business despite three floods, a tornado, countless break-ins, and yes, a global pandemic.
Has it been easy? No. To be a Black business owner means enduring relentless roadblocks.
Rewarding? Very! The Shack fostered a sense of pride. It was valuable for the unique character it brought to the community.
Bananas Beach Grill and Rum Shack has been the home of first summer jobs for our youth, date nights, salsa dancing lessons and fitness events. It hosted cultural events like Carivibe, bringing in thousands of people to learn about our culture, socialize and celebrate. We have been part of many weddings, corporate BBQ’s, birthday parties and proudly hosted charity and fundraising events. It has been home to our kids – and many kids, who felt a sense of purpose.
While we hosted many events, classes and celebrations, we have never been the subject of any incidents, fines, or infractions whatsoever. Even during last summer's COVID crisis, we were able to provide safe dining and outdoor entertainment, while respecting Public Health guidelines.
In January 2021, we were the recipients of “The Community Builder Award”. This gave us added confidence, as we once again submitted our application to operate The Shack on Petrie. We respected the deadline and submitted our application to continue our operations. When we had not received a response and contacted the City, we were told that the deadline had been extended.
We were not daunted by this curious event, as we had received nothing but support from our community, and overwhelming support from top City officials.
Curiously, why in the middle of a devastating pandemic, were we being told to:
a. Get our trailers and all materials off of Petrie Island;
b. Consider selling all that we have built to the new tenant?
This was a tremendous shock.
Since being rejected, we have had a meeting with all 3 levels of government, including Mayor Jim Watson’s office, where they too expressed shock about the decision.
Neither the mayor’s office or our local Councillors played a part in the decision, which interestingly appears to have been made by a one person committee composed of a single City worker, in procurement.
Our 10 years of building a business, 10 years of building a community resource, 10 years of creating a tropical destination on Petrie Island, was ended by a single bureaucrat, supposedly using a rating scale/chart.
The Pandemic has businesses – especially Black businesses fighting for their lives. Historically, Black Canadians have suffered economic exclusion and the erasure of communities; Blacks who have attained some measure of affluence, most times suffer in silence.
Despite many, many obstacles that were placed in front of us, we wanted to make a difference that goes well beyond our bottom lines.
The City seems to be saying that what we built was good ... but maybe too good for us. It looks as though they have already made their decision, and we are not part of their greater plan.
Two weeks ago, we were advised that the decision to reject our application would be referred to the Auditor General for review and further investigation. We hope to hear back soon.
We believe that we built a vibrant destination and community resource on Petrie Island.
We are proud of our accomplishments to date and thank the community for their unending support – we will continue to tell our story and will no longer suffer in silence.