Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bien venue

Owner of Le Garage hopes his St. Boniface café appeals to all walks of life and all kinds of musicians

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Two days before Le Garage Café opened in August 2008, owner Ray Beaudry walked to the nearby St. Boniface Hotel, picked up a six-pack of beer, returned to his locale and proceeded to panic.


"I sat here by myself, drank a couple of beers and wondered, 'What if nobody comes?'" says Beaudry, who took over a quaint 30-seat diner called Le Garage and transformed it into a 2,800-square-foot restaurant/live music venue.

"I'd refinanced my house, I'd borrowed every cent the bank would give me and I'd maxed out my credit cards. This had to work because if it didn't, I was finished."

Skip ahead 12 months: Sean Ashby, a guitarist who records with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, is performing at the Provencher Boulevard eatery, along with members of the Philosopher Kings and Feist's back-up band. Scattered among the 100 or so people in the crowd are a who's who of Winnipeg musicians, including Paul Yee, formerly of Doc Walker, and Leonard "Lewsh" Shaw from the current edition of the Guess Who.

Towards the end of the evening, Yee, Shaw and a few others join Ashby and company onstage. And for the next 20 minutes or so, everybody in Le Garage is singing and clapping along to an impromptu version of the Temptations' Papa Was a Rolling Stone.

"I know it sounds altruistic, but while that was going on, I took a look around the room and figured, 'Who gives a (crap) if we make money?'" says Beaudry, a self-described "music nut" who commissioned artist Larry Rich to dress up Le Garage's walls with portraits of some of Beaudry's favourite performers: Neil Young, Joe Strummer and Ol' Blue Eyes among them.

"I know you can't hit it out of the park every night, but for that moment at least, I thought, 'This is why you're here.'"

-- -- --

Before Beaudry became a restaurateur, the former Keg waiter travelled extensively for his job as a recruitment officer. One night, Beaudry popped into a bar in Montreal's St. Denis district. The first thing the St. Boniface native noticed was the diversity of ages in the room: seniors nursing beers, "suits" enjoying a glass of wine and 20-somethings sipping tea, all of them listening attentively to a fellow in the corner playing a stand-up bass.

"Is this ever neat," Beaudry remarked to nobody in particular. "I wish there was something similar back home."

A few months later, Beaudry decided that he was tired of travelling. He also decided that he wanted to open an establishment of his own, comparable to the spot he'd visited in Quebec.

The first available space Beaudry considered was Le Garage, located at 166 Provencher Blvd. Beaudry was already familiar with the location; when he was growing up on Des Meurons Street, his parents would take him there for a bite, back when it was the Eagle Café. (For almost 40 years, Eagle Bus Lines operated a coffee shop in the front third of the two-storey brick building and used the rear area as a garage for its bus fleet.)

"I took over in November and we started gutting everything right away," Beaudry says, mentioning that the most difficult part of the nine-month reno was figuring out what to do with a pair of service pits that had been built into the floor, near where the stage sits today. "We ended up having to bring in 50,000 pounds of gravel to fill up the pits. Then we laid hardwood floors over top of everything."

When it came time to plan a menu, Beaudry and his head chef decided to focus on "what would be good for the area." They wanted to serve so-called "comfort food," but they also wanted to offer spins on traditional French-Canadian favourites like poutine and tourtière. (Beaudry's four-year-old son Alex opts for the pulled pork mac and cheese when he shows up for "work" with his dad.)

-- -- --

Three weeks before the end of the current NHL regular season, Beaudry is sitting down with a newspaper scribe, answering questions about his five years in business. Thirty minutes into the interview, a waitress approaches their table, hands Beaudry a phone and says, "Ray, you might want to take this."

It turns out that the person at the other end of the line represents the Dallas Stars. He's wondering if Le Garage can feed the team and support staff after their game with the Jets that evening.

Beaudry hangs up the phone, apologizes for the interruption and asks if the interview can be cut short and resumed on another day.

"I played it pretty cool on the phone, but I was definitely sweating on the inside," Beaudry says, a couple of weeks later. "It turned out to be pretty crazy; we had to deliver close to 70 full-course meals to their private jet by 8 p.m. We were literally running out onto the tarmac to get everything there in time."

Beaudry was less frazzled when Chris Isaak's people approached him a few days before the singer appeared at the Centennial Concert Hall last August. "We ended up catering for him and his band. Chris was the nicest guy; the first thing he said when we got there was, 'What are you standing there for? Sit down and eat with us.'"

Feeding recording stars -- and Dallas Stars -- is all fine and good, but the customers Beaudry gets a kick out of the most are the "older gentlemen" from his neighbourhood who stop by for lunch on a regular basis and proceed to solve the world's problems over an ale or three.

"One of my very favourite moments was when a guy in his 70s came up to me one night, patted me on the back and said, 'It's so nice to see lineups on Provencher again.'"


Ban on Van


RAY Beaudry, the owner of Le Garage Cafe, has something in common with Van Morrison, the owner of eight gold records: neither is a fan of the Irishman's 1967 chart-topper, Brown Eyed Girl.

Soon after Beaudry opened Le Garage in 2008, he compiled a tongue-in-cheek list of songs he didn't want to hear performed on his stage. (Le Garage hosts live musicians five nights a week, Tuesday to Saturday.)

"I don't want to come across as some music snob, because I truly like all styles of music," says Beaudry, who has everything from Quebec disco band Toulouse to alt-rock darlings Dinosaur Jr. on his iPod. "But there are definitely a few songs I don't need to hear again -- Brown Eyed Girl being one of them." (The tune's composer concurs; in a 2009 interview with Time magazine, Morrison said, "It's not one of my best. I mean, I've got about 300 songs that I think are better.")

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 E3

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