National and international restaurant chains haven't lost their appetite for the Winnipeg market despite the rash of new eateries that have been springing up here in recent years.
A case in point is Ontario-based Cara Operations Ltd., Canada's largest full-service-restaurant operator with more than 850 outlets operating under such brands as Montana's, Kelsey's, Harvey's, Swiss Chalet, Milestones Grill and Bar, D'Arcy McGee's and Fionn MacCool's.
A Cara official said the company hopes to open between nine and 15 new restaurants in the city over the next five years, including three Milestones, three to five Swiss Chalets and three to five Fionn MacCool's.
"A great restaurant market, good population base... we've had a great history with the Winnipeg market," Alexander Gerzon, the company's vice-president of franchising, said in an interview.
John Pearson, a retail leasing specialist with Shindico Realty Inc. who has helped Cara find many of its Winnipeg locations, said Cara isn't the only out-of-province restaurant operator looking to expand its presence in the Winnipeg market.
Pearson said the Calgary-based FranWorks Group of Companies, whose operations include Original Joe's Restaurant and Bar, State & Main Kitchen and Bar and Elephant & Castle, opened its third Original Joe's in the city about a month ago on west Portage Avenue.
"And they're actively pursuing a couple of other State & Main locations, as well," Pearson added.
He said these expansion-minded operators aren't deterred by the rash of other new eateries that have opened here in recent years.
Examples include Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the Fox and Fiddle, Carnaval Brazilian BBQ, Prairie 360 Skyline Restaurant & Lounge, Cibo Waterfront Café, and Barley Brothers Gastropub & Deli.
"The restaurant industry still sees opportunities in Winnipeg. It feels there are still areas that are under-serviced... "
Pearson said while most big retailers prefer to be in regional shopping centres, retail power centres or dominant retail nodes such as Polo Park, Kenaston and McGillivray, and Regent and Lagimodiere, restaurants will also look at locations on major arteries such as Pembina Highway, McPhillips Street and Fermor Avenue.
He said the operators pursuing expansion opportunities here include existing players and newcomers to the market.
In the latest FranchiseCanada magazine, some of the chains seeking franchisees for the Manitoba market include Rockwell's Bar & Grill (mid-scale casual dining), Ricky's All Day Grill (family dining), Quesada Burritos and Tacos, Panago (pizza takeout/delivery), Mr. Mikes Steakhouse Casual Restaurants and Carl's Jr. Charbroiled Burgers.
The next addition to Cara's Winnipeg operations will be a dual-concept Harvey's/Swiss Chalet restaurant scheduled to open this July in the former Chicken Delight building on the corner of Corydon Avenue and Stafford Street.
The husband-and-wife team of Sartaj and Jyoti Singh, who own and operate the Harvey's outlet in Winnipeg's Richardson International Airport, will also own and operate the new Corydon outlet.
Jyoti Singh said it will be only the third Harvey's/Swiss Chalet dual-concept restaurant in Canada, and the first in Western Canada. While there are other locations where Harvey's and Swiss Chalet outlets are on the same property, this new concept has them both under the same roof, sharing the kitchen, eating area and cash registers.
The Singhs are also fired up about having a restaurant on the Corydon strip.
"The location is great because it has such a great mix (of customers). They have all ages there, and it's also a great tourist location," she said.
"And we know the community is excited about having that place (the long-vacant Chicken Delight building) look better. We really want to make it a community store."
Gerzon said Cara is also close to finalizing a deal to lease a 5,000-square-foot Regent Avenue property that will be home to its first Fionn MacCool's outlet in Winnipeg. The Irish-pub-style eatery, which will offer a blend of traditional pub meals and contemporary dishes, is expected to open this fall.
That's also when Cara's first local Milestones outlet is slated to open on the main floor of the new 311 Portage Avenue at the Centrepoint office/hotel/retail complex under construction across from the MTS Centre.
Gerzon wouldn't speculate on where the other Milestones, Fionn MacCool's and Swiss Chalet outlets might be located, saying it depends on the availability of properties.
Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association, reiterated that the return of an NHL team seems to be one of the reasons for the ongoing interest in the Winnipeg market by out-of-province chains.
"It really seemed to put us back on the map. That, and some of the other things going on here, like the museum (the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights) and the convention centre expansion."
Jocelyn said the recent relaxing of local liquor laws also makes Manitoba a more attractive market for bar and restaurant operators.
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.