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New restaurant chains rushing to feed fans downtown

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The downtown sports, hospitality and entertainment district (SHED) forming around the MTS Centre is starting to catch fire, with new restaurant chains clamouring to set up shop and eateries already there reporting a surge in business tied to the Winnipeg Jets.

Retail leasing specialist Ken Yee of Cushman & Wakefield said five national restaurant chains have approached the firm about leasing one of the two restaurant spaces in the Longboat Development Corp. complex being built next year on the north side of Portage Avenue across from the MTS Centre.

One of them is the Edmonton-based Hudsons Canadian Tap House chain, which is looking at three or four prospective locations in the SHED, including the Longboat development and nearby Cityplace, said company principal Mike Yasinski.

"Winnipeg is certainly a city we'd love to open in. It has a lot of similarities with our Edmonton market and obviously with the addition of the team (the Jets) and the revitalization of the downtown, it seems like a natural fit for us."

Yasinski said he spent three or four days in October scouting out sites with retail leasing specialist Rennie Zegalski of CB Richard Ellice. And he liked what he saw.

"There just seems to be a lot of great energy and good action downtown."

Industry sources said the Shark Club Bar & Grill chain, which is billed as Western Canada's premier sports bar and grill -- is also close to completing a deal to lease space on the second floor of Cityplace.

The Shark Club, with locations in Grande Prairie, Langley, Lethbridge, Quesnel, Richmond, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Victoria, is part of Northland Properties, which also owns Moxie's, Chop, Denny's and the Sandman Hotels, Inns & Suites.

Vancouver-based Northland Properties is owned by Tom Gagliardi, who recently became owner of the Dallas Stars NHL franchise. And sources said True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd., which owns the MTS Centre and the Jets, will be the local franchisee of the Shark Club.

Yee and Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, said the out-of-town restaurant operators are looking to grab a piece of the action being created by the SHED, which still requires the formal blessing of the provincial government and other new developments in the downtown.

"Very quietly, over the last 10 years, the downtown has seen a lot of development and now it's hitting everybody's radar screen," Grande said. "But with the arrival of the Jets and (CentreVenture Development Corp.) now moving forward with the SHED, everything is being quickened."

Not included in the list of new entrants is the $16-million transformation, already underway, of the historic Metropolitan Theatre into a "multi-function event space" by Canad Inns and the opening, likely next month, of Rudy's Eat & Drink, a business-casual restaurant on the main floor of the Manitoba Hydro office building.

The director of operations for the 4Play Sports Bar on Portage Avenue across from the arena said things have been cooking since the Jets arrived.

Jae Pangilinan said they've boosted their staff by 40 per cent to 75 people to handle a near doubling in business volumes since the Jets' season began in late September.

Pangilinan said not only are they packing them in on game nights, but some Jets fans are also returning on non-game days because they like the atmosphere.

The manager of the East India Company Pub & Eatery on York Avenue said they've seen an eight to 12 per cent increase in business on days the Jets are playing.

Sachit Mehra said the Jets' return and the SHED are just two pieces in the downtown revitalization puzzle. "We need more of everything -- more small and medium-sized businesses, more large-scale businesses, more government offices, more residents. But at no other point in my 20-year history of being downtown have I seen all of the different pieces of the puzzle as close together as they are right now."


-- with files by Martin Cash


Weather a boost to business

THE return of the Jets isn't the only thing providing a shot in the arm to Manitoba's bars, restaurants and food-services industry. The weather has also been a big help.

New Statistics Canada figures released Wednesday show industry sales bounced back in September after two consecutive months of weaker sales. And a local industry official said unseasonably warm weather was likely the biggest reason for the rebound because it got people out and about.

"What I've been hearing from our operators is that this summer was good... and that has continued into the fall," said Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

"The weather has been really great."

Statistics Canada said Manitoba's sales grew by 0.3 per cent to $122.9 million in September from $122.5 million in August. September's total was also a 6.4 per cent improvement from September 2010's tally of $115.5 million.

Jocelyn said that's also a reflection of the weather, because last year was unusually cold and wet, which put a real damper on sales.


-- McNeill

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2011 B5

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