They may have served the last Salisbury House Nip on Winnipeg's landmark Esplanade Riel footbridge.
The City of Winnipeg has terminated a leasing agreement with the venerable Winnipeg restaurant chain, which has operated a restaurant in the 4,000-square-foot outlet for the last seven years. On Saturday, it ran an advertisement in the Free Press inviting interested parties to submit written offers before 4 p.m. Jan. 31.
Salisbury House president and CEO Earl Barish said Monday he thought the chain had a deal with the city on a new five-year lease for the outlet, which is in the middle of the pedestrian bridge linking downtown with St. Boniface.
But city officials informed him last month they'd changed their minds, he said, and they'd be offering the space to other potential tenants.
"Somebody felt there may be somebody else who is prepared to pay them more than we are," Barish said. "I'm not sure that will happen, but you never know."
The Esplanade Riel restaurant has been the subject of much debate since it was completed in 2003. The city and St. Boniface residents originally envisioned it as a French bistro or a café highlighting Manitoba cuisine. But naysayers warned it would never work because there was no on-site parking and people wouldn't brave the cold to make the trek across the bridge during the winter months.
After sitting vacant for more than a year, the city finally struck a deal to rent the space to Sals, which is best known for its hamburgers known as Nips. The deal was to pay $2,000 a month rent for five years, with the option of renewing the deal for two more five-year terms.
However, at the end of the five-year term, Sals sought a reduction in rent because it said it was losing money on the operation. And Barish said it wasn't until recently they struck a tentative new deal that would have seen it pay "a little less rent" for the first few years in a new five-year term.
Last October, Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith had complained about the city allowing the old lease to roll over without charging Sals more rent. He also questioned why it had taken over two years to negotiate a new deal.
Another unknown was whether the Esplanade Riel lease falls under the aegis of an external audit underway of city real estate transactions dating back at least the past five years.
City officials were unavailable Monday for comment. But Barish said he wouldn't rule out a comeback for Sals, which is now closed for the winter.
He said the company will likely submit a new proposal. And if the city doesn't get a better offer from anyone else, that could open the door for Sals' return.
"But I won't be offering what I was offering, I can tell you that," he added. "We'll offer a different kind of proposal that will allow for less of a loss or no loss."
St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal said Monday this may be a good time for the city to look at doing something more creative with the site.
"I was one of those people who always thought we could do something better there -- nothing against Salisbury House," he said.
"I think there's room for a private-public partnership where you create a place where people could go to have a cup of coffee and read the newspaper and spend some time enjoying their surroundings. You're never going to get a beautiful place like that again with the vistas that place has."
He said one option might be to hold special events there during the months when business is slow.
"It could be a private-public partnership with groups like the Festival du Voyageur, Forks North Portage or private fundraisers."
-- with files by Bartley Kives