One of the best-known restaurant names in Winnipeg is culling its herd.
Earls, the popular Vancouver-based chain known for its international menu and well-groomed staff, is closing down its Pembina Highway location next week after an 18-year run.
"It was losing money," said Mic Minhas, Earls' vice-president of tax. "The last few years, it has really struggled operationally. I'm not exactly sure why but it was not profitable."
Minhas didn't directly address the impact of Earls St. Vital, which opened just a couple of kilometres away in 2006, but acknowledged that declining customer traffic had a significant impact on the decision to close.
"If people aren't coming through the doors, that's the driving force. Then you see sales and profits slipping. That's where Pembina was," he said.
Minhas doesn't share the enthusiasm many other south end restaurateurs have for the upcoming inaugural season of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.
"Looking back over the last 18 months to two years, it has been a struggle. To think 'This is coming or that is coming,' (didn't change our minds). This didn't happen overnight. It wasn't trending back up at all. This isn't the first month that we lost money there," he said.
Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association, said it's entirely possible the St. Vital location cannibalized business from the Pembina store.
It also didn't help matters the patio season has been significantly shortened by a distinct lack of patio weather the last couple of months, he said.
"You're never happy to see a location like that close down. There are so many new things that are coming (in the area). It's exciting. But it's a couple of steps back to see them closing," he said.
The 6,900-square-foot location won't be empty for long, according to John Pearson, a broker at Shindico Realty Inc./IC&I Properties. The fact the Bombers are going to be a long-term neighbour is the focal point of his pitch to potential tenants.
Pearson's preference is to put another restaurant in there -- not many other businesses have use for a bar and a patio -- but smaller operators likely need not apply. The property reportedly has a monthly rent of about $25,000.
"The location is fabulous. It's at the gateway off Bishop Grandin and into south Pembina," Pearson said.
Earls also has three other restaurants in Winnipeg, one at Polo Park Shopping Centre, another at St. Vital Shopping Centre and its flagship location on Main Street. The Main Street location is scheduled to be demolished in the fall of 2014 with a $6-million replacement to rise in its place the following spring.