As food truck season dies down, Kitchener’s The Lab Street Eats will be hitting the brakes and switching gears for their brick-and-mortar restaurant's first anniversary.
After their first food truck was welcomed with open arms, owners Mike and Cindy Gatto knew they wanted to expand. Offering “a little bit of everything,” with a hint of southern influence, their first brick-and-mortar location opened its doors in December 2021 before a second truck was added to their fleet.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky and blessed to have the support and the people coming into our restaurant week over week and day over day,” said Mike Gatto. “We couldn’t have done this without their support and we will continue to appreciate them as much as humanly possible.”
For Gatto, the big difference between the Lab Street Eatery storefront and food trucks is community. Located on Victoria Street South in Kitchener, a growing neighbourhood and new condos across the street have kept business steady. But while the storefront may have more space, the food truck allows the business to “experience new communities, meet new people and take part in new events.”
“The food truck is absolutely 1000 times more work … it’s like running a restaurant in a very confined space,” said Gatto. “We’re very lucky to have the restaurant space because it definitely allows us a little bit of flexibility.”
Since opening the Eatery, Gatto says his favourite memories are when “the hum” reaches him in the kitchen. Featuring a full dining room, the background filled with the sounds of music, laughter, and “the odd ‘oh boy this is delicious,” it’s something that he’d always dreamed of.
“It is by far our favourite thing to experience on a day-to-day basis because it really just leans into the feeling of we must be doing something right.,” said Gatto. “We appreciate everybody that walks through the door, that's ever shared a post, tried our food … we work really, really hard to provide above and beyond customers.”
The decision for the restaurant was made over a year and a half, with the food truck opening its doors in August 2021. Working in pharmacy retail for 17 years, when the couple “finally mustered up the courage” to dive in, Gatto never looked back.
“For us, you know, as challenging as it was to open a new business during the COVID climate, it was a big win for us to be able to establish that business,” said Gatto. “I think COVID gave (Cindy and I) a different perspective on time, how important it is to us and how we want to spend it.”
The Lab Street Eats also tries to “support local as much as possible.” Growing up in Kitchener, Gatto frequented spaces like open mic nights, art crawls and shows in his late teens and early twenties but feels those opportunities have “slowly diminished” over the years.
“Local is something that we're going to continuously lean into it because it's important to us,” said Gatto. “So for us, it's very important to maybe bring that back and I think it's a great little space for people to be able to showcase their talent.”
The Lab Street Eats also gives back by participating in different community charities like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and TinyHomeTakeout. Gatto hopes to run charity and community events at the Eatery as food truck events die down for the fall and winter.
It's located at 105 Victoria Street South in Kitchener.