Restaurateur Noel Bernier is adding a new wrinkle to his burgeoning Winnipeg eateries empire -- the city's first craft-beer pub.
Barley Brothers, which will include a 180-seat pub/restaurant and a 60-seat outdoor patio, is slated to open late next month in the former Kelsey's Restaurant location at 655 Empress St.
Although other bars and pubs in the city sell craft beers -- specialty beers made by small, independent and traditional breweries -- Bernier said Barley Brothers will be the first to sell exclusively craft beers. And he estimates it's one of only about a dozen such pubs in all of Canada.
It's also the second of three new establishments he and his business partners -- Richard and Dennis Wiebe, Justin Giasson and Darcy Caners -- are opening this year.
The others are the Carnaval Brazilian BBQ, which opened in February on Waterfront Drive, and the Prairie 360 Skyline Restaurant & Lounge, which is scheduled to open Nov. 9 in the former Royal Crown Revolving Restaurant space on top of Fort Garry Place in downtown Winnipeg.
Bernier also owns and operates two other eateries in the city's East Exchange District -- Hermanos Restaurant and Wine Bar and Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria. Hermanos was his first foray into the restaurant business after nearly two decades working in the grain, petroleum and propane industries. He opened Hermanos in 2009 and Corrientes in July of last year.
Bernier, who is the group's principal partner, admitted Tuesday 2013 has been an unusually hectic year even by his standards.
He said with the three new additions and a new outdoor patio Corrientes opened this summer, the group will have added 700 new seats this year to its stable of eateries.
"We think it's the most seats anyone has opened in the city in a single calender year," he added.
Although it will be their first pub, Giasson noted his wife owns and operates the Billabong Gastropub in the Osborne Village. So the pub concept is not totally new to them.
Bernier said Barley Brothers will feature 72 different craft beers from Canada and the United States, including about 50 brands that will be new to the Manitoba market. It will also serve a variety of beer-related foods -- things such as burgers, chicken wings, quesadillas and bratwurst sausages -- as well as perogies and a few other local favourites.
"Imagine Canadiana meets beer hall (cuisine)."
A local official with the Canadian Restaurant and Foodsservices Association said a craft-beer pub will be a welcome addition to the local market.
"And any time you see a new concept opening, it's a vote of confidence in Manitoba and in the Manitoba restaurant sector," Dwayne Marling, the association's vice-president for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, said.
"And it's the kind of concept that will appeal to a good portion of Manitobans," he added. "It's a significantly growing trend in Canada and the United States to focus on beer and beer cuisine."
Marling said craft-beer pubs represent a further blurring of the lines between restaurants and bars or pubs.
"They used to be very distinct concepts, but now we're seeing the lines start to blur quite a bit. And I don't think the public really cares. The public is interested in great new concepts, period -- someplace where they can go and try something new."
Bernier said he and his partners had been looking for a while for a good location to open a Brazilian BBQ restaurant and a craft-beer pub. And when the chance came along to also acquire the city's only revolving restaurant site, it was just too good to pass up.
He said although they plan to open more restaurants and craft-beer pubs in the city, it won't be in the near future.
"Our plan is to make 2014 a year that's focused on polishing our (existing) operations and products," he added.