Canada's first vegetarian burger joint has been such a smashing success, the local owners are planning to open a second location in the city.
Tomas Sohlberg and his wife, Anneen DuPlessis, are converting what used to be a drive-through tunnel in a historic East Exchange District building -- the Prairie Architects building at 141 Bannatyne Ave. -- into a 1,500-square-foot Boon Burger Cafe.
Sohlberg and DuPlessis, who at one time were co-owners of Winnipeg's Stella's Cafe, opened their first Boon Burger Cafe three years ago near Sherbrook Street and Westminster Avenue. "Winnipeggers have really embraced our concept, and that's basically why we're expanding," Sohberg said.
He said they've run out of room at their Sherbrook cafe, and they found it would be cheaper to open a second outlet at a different location than to expand the original one. So, they began looking around for a good location -- and it was their customers who decided the new outlet should be in the Exchange District.
"We are avid Facebook users... and that was the No. 1 suggested area by our 4,000 Facebook fans," Sohberg said.
He said it was just luck they stumbled upon their space in the Prairie Architect building. They were passing by one day, saw a for-rent sign in the window and stopped to check it out.
"When we saw it we thought it was so fitting for us because we're sort of a unique and cutting-edge concept, too. And to have a second restaurant inside a tunnel -- we just thought that would be so neat."
Sohberg said it was Prairie Architects' idea to convert the open tunnel into retail space. They installed a floor-to-ceiling glass wall on the end facing onto Bannatyne, and a wall with windows near the top on the end facing onto the back lane.
To create extra room for their new tenant, they punched a hole in the floor and installed stairs leading down to the basement, where Sohberg and DuPlessis will install a washroom, a storage room and change room for their 20 to 25 workers.
Sohberg said they're aiming for a June opening for their open-concept cafe. Most of the items on the menu will be prepared on site. But because it will have a smaller cooking area, the soups and gravies will likely be prepared at the Sherbrook Street cafe and shuttled over to the new location.
He said they have high hopes for the new cafe.
"There's a huge business clientele (in the downtown) from Monday to Friday. And it's kind of an untapped market (for veggie burgers)."
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Restaurants aren't the only thing moving into the Exchange District these days.
On March 1, the first seven tenants in a 10-unit condominium/apartment complex at 128 James Ave. moved into their new homes.
The complex is a former three-storey warehouse that has been converted into residential units by Winnipeg's James Avenue Holdings Ltd. It's part of a three-phase development that will also see another three floors of condo units (four per floor) added to the top of that building, and an eight-storey, 40-unit residential building built next door at 120 James Ave.
James Avenue Holding Co. president Kurtis Sawatzky said he hopes to begin work on the addition by late this fall, with the goal of having it completed before November 2014.
Sawatzky said work on Phase III won't begin until work is underway on a new multi-level parkade the city has planned for the area. It will provide parking for the residents in his development.
Although all of the plan is to eventually sell all of units as condos, Sawatzky is giving prospective buyers the option of renting seven of the first 10 units for up to three years before deciding whether to buy them.
Bill Thiessen, the Re/Max Professional Realty agent who is marketing the three condo units, said he expects the other two units to sell quickly once the display suite opens next month
He said the units, which range in size from 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, are priced at between $300,000 and $375,000.
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It appears Winnipeggers will have to wait a few more months to learn what kind of new developments will spring up on two large, downtown surface parking lots owned by Manitoba Public Insurance.
Last December, the Crown corporation asked developers to submit proposals to redevelop the two lots, which are located on the south side of Graham Avenue between Hargrave and Carlton streets and on the south side of St. Mary Avenue between Hargrave and Donald Street.
The city's downtown development agency -- CentreVenture Development Corp.-- has said it wants to see a combination of residential, office, retail and parkade developments on the sites, which are located within its proposed sports, hospitality and entertainment district (SHED).
MPI said last week it has received a number of proposals and is pleased with the response.
However, it said it hasn't yet begun the formal evaluation process, and "in all likelihood, it will be several months before we are in a position to make any formal announcement."
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Two local developers are waiting until they land an anchor tenant before proceeding with an award-winning office tower near the city's downtown baseball stadium.
Green Seed Development Corp. president Mark Penner said he and partner Kori Buhler need to find a buyer for about one-third of the roughly 30,000 square feet in their proposed 11-storey Bond Tower office-condominium complex before they will proceed with the project. "We're looking for every excuse possible to build it," he said. "But it's a big undertaking for our group."
The project, which would be built on the former Pazsteaks restaurant site on William Stephenson Way, has won major architecture awards for the 5468796 Architecture Inc., which designed it.
Know of any newsworthy development in the local office, retail, or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the e-mail address below, or at 697-7254.