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In Ferno's success sparks River Heights expansion

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FOR the owner of In Ferno's Bistro, expanding his St. Boniface eatery to River Heights is more than simply building up his business -- it's also adding another branch to his restaurant family tree.

Fern Kirouac, a second-generation restaurateur, is going into business with his son, Chris, as In Ferno's prepares to open up on Academy Road in the space formerly occupied by The Frenchway and J. Fox's over the last couple of years.

The father and son were thinking about taking on a new project and when the space became available a few months ago, expanding In Ferno's seemed like the logical move.

"This is my last hurrah," Fern Kirouac said. "It's all about serving good food and having people stick their heads in the kitchen after they've eaten and say, 'that was awesome.' "

Kirouac, and his sister, Linda Love, have quite literally grown up in the restaurant business. Their father, also named Fern, was the executive chef at the International Inn (now the Victoria Inn) in the 1960s and '70s. He had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant and he got that opportunity when the Red Lantern in St. Boniface was put up for sale in 1980.

He had just nicely revamped the menu and rebuilt its client base when the entrepreneurial bug bit him again in 1983 and he bought La Vieille Gare just down the street. He didn't have to look far to find his key employees for both ventures as they all sat around the family dinner table -- the two kids and their mother, Irene.

The elder Kirouac also carved out a niche as a local personality as the host of the Charcoal Chef television show and the name behind Ferny seasoning salt. He passed away in 1990 but his family has continued to build on his legacy.

The Red Lantern was sold off so they could focus on La Vieille Gare. Fern Jr. took a few years off but returned with In Ferno's in 2003. In 2008, La Vieille Gare was relaunched as Resto Gare by Love.

The two siblings' restaurants are separate entities and do not share staff or marketing efforts but there is the occasional collaboration.

"What's his is his and what's mine is mine. Certainly we support each other. If we run out of scallops at Resto Gare, I'll phone him and ask if he can lend us some. We're neighbours as well as family," Love said.

Irene decided to retire in 2001 but she still goes into Resto Gare on a regular basis at age 79.

"She doesn't phone, she just pops in to make sure everybody is happy. She has done it all in the restaurant business. She helps out if we need her," Love said.

The new In Ferno's, which will be owned by father and son, will have a soft opening in early April and it won't be an exact replica of its sister restaurant, Chris Kirouac said.

"We won't have the identical menu but we will keep some customer favourites. The new location will also have a lounge, which we don't have in St. Boniface. We want people to want to go to both places," he said, noting the renovations on Academy are relatively minor, mainly changing some light fixtures and painting some walls.

Its new location, however, will feature some French-speaking staff members so some customers can be greeted in their native tongue. "We're still a French restaurant," he said.

With Italian eatery Pizzeria Gusto just a baguette's throw away, Chris Kirouac said he's also looking forward to building up Academy Road as a restaurant destination location.

Fern Kirouac thinks the restaurant tree's roots will get a little deeper a few years down the road.

"My 12-year-old son Zachary loves to cook," he said.


Capitalizing on a good name

WOULD you like to super-size that concept?

Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said there are pros and cons in expanding a concept. For starters, you don't want to cannibalize the first location's business by hanging up the second's shingle in close proximity. That sort of strategy worked short-term for Starbucks but it won't for restaurants.

You can, however, capitalize on a good name.

"In Ferno's has a good following, it's a difficult spot to get a table. You're taking the quality that comes with a good name and a great reputation. All that instant name recognition is already in place, all you have to do is open the doors," he said.

You can also share marketing, training, computer systems and relationships with suppliers, he said.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2012 B5


Updated on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 9:13 AM CDT: corrected spelling to La Vieille Gare

1:22 PM: corrected previous tenant of Academy Road location to The Frenchway

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