Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
The city will need to recruit a new tenant for the restaurant on the iconic Esplanade Riel as WOW! Hospitality will be handing over the keys to Mon Ami Louis on Friday and is closing the doors at the latest experiment on the pedestrian bridge.
The little French restaurant is the latest casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, although this time it is the city itself who is the landlord that was not able to negotiate concessions with the tenant, itself a corporate restaurant company.
Doug Stephen, the CEO of Wow! Hospitality, said it was a bittersweet occasion taking his final pass though the space as it was being cleaned up to hand it back over.
"It breaks my heart,’ he said. "I like iconic locations but I am getting old and I also want them to be profitable if I can possibly make it."
"I like iconic locations but I am getting old and I also want them to be profitable if I can possibly make it." – CEO of Wow! Hospitality Doug Stephen
Stephen said there was no ill will between Wow! and the city, but he did say there has been back and forth negotiations for four and a half years.
The dispute seemed to be on the definition of "operating costs" and it was something that was never resolved.
Stephen said there was a clause in the lease that allowed Wow! to extricate itself from its lease in 2016 if a certain level of profitability had not been achieved, which it exercised.
But the city asked them and they agreed to stay on.
"We said there were three things we needed to make it profitable for both parties, but those three things did not happen," he said. "We have been back and forth since then."
He said six months ago the city asked for the operating cost payment but Stephen told them it had not been resolved.
"They said if we can’t resolve them, we will have to part company," said Stephen. "I said that is OK. There is no ill will."
Stephen’s company’s flagship operation, 529 Wellington opened on Monday night at less than 50 per cent capacity but did the same volume of business as it did on a similar night last year.
Peasant Cookery, another of Wow’s popular locations, opened on Tuesday night and Prairie’s Edge, its restaurant in the pavilion at Kildonan Park is scheduled to open on Wednesday.
“They said if we can’t resolve them, we will have to part company. I said that is OK. There is no ill will.” – Doug Stephen
But its other locations and catering enterprises are going to have to wait.
For instance, Stephen said its dinner theatre operations in Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton will hold off because of uncertainty as to how to operate with social distancing.
He said it is likely they will wait until the end of August or early September before they re-open Carne Italian Chophouse on York Avenue.
And its flight kitchen catering business, that provided pre-made meals and sandwiches to airlines and other venues, may be permanently grounded.
"We are re-evaluating whether or not to start it up again," he said. "I have someone who might take it on. It was a nice little piece of business."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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