Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
The middle of a global pandemic does not seem like the optimum time to try to open a new restaurant, especially a unique concept with two separate restaurants in the same location.
But if anyone can pull it off it’s WOW Hospitality president Doug Stephen and chefs Michael Dacquisto and Kelly Cattani.
The three of them are each one-third partners in the double restaurant Charleswood offering at 3670 Roblin Blvd. with Cattani operating the breakfast and lunch bakery/café Bluestone Cottage on one side of the room and Dacquisto handling dinner duties with Alena Rustic Italian on the other side.
The venture was born out both chef’s belief that their hometown Charleswood neighbourhood needed more food offerings and the opportunity to acquire the lease at the old Osteria del Piolo restaurant space.
In particular, Stephen and Cattani had been looking for a Charleswood location to do a breakfast spot for some time.
When Osteria closed in late January Stephen had the chance work out favourable conditions to take over the lease.
"I had been working with them and when they decided they’d had enough I said I would take over their obligations on the lease," said Stephen.
But the 5,200 square foot room was too big for Cattani’s breakfast concept.
"When Michael heard about the space which has a new wood-fired pizza oven and a charcoal grill we started to workshop the two-in-one concept," he said.
The two sides of the room will be separated and feature distinct design ambiances but they will share the kitchen, staff will be cross-trained and they will each have the opportunity to share each other’s space if traffic requires.
While it will be the first time that Cattani will be the co-owner of a storefront operation, she’s had her own catering and consulting business for a few years while filling in as chef at other Wow locations.
"It’s pretty exciting," he said. "I’ve enjoyed working with Doug. He’s super smart and a great mentor. I’m excited to see what we can do together."
Cattani grew up in Charleswood and moved back a decade ago with her husband just before they had a baby and thought the neighborhood really needed a great breakfast spot.
"It is just begging for it," she said. "The residents here are looking for ways to support each other and get together and we are hoping to be part of that community."
"It’s pretty exciting. I’ve enjoyed working with Doug. He’s super smart and a great mentor. I’m excited to see what we can do together." – Chef Kelly Cattani
Bluestone Cottage will have a bakery/café vibe to it serving breakfast and lunch with lots of great beverage options.
"We’ve got a beautiful espresso machine and we’ll have juices and smoothies and a focus on fresh vibrant, seasonally influenced food," she said.
Dacquisto is a 25 year veteran with Wow. He was the group’s original executive chef, the founding executive chef of the successful 529 Wellington restaurant and the partner in the ill-fated Dacquisto restaurant from a decade ago.
"We just could not get that one over the hump that we needed to," he said. "It was just too big of a space at the time. After we closed that place Doug and I always talked about doing something Italian down the road again, but in a much smaller space."
“People can relate to the fresh simplicity of a lot of Italian food. Just using a few ingredients you can make a lot of delicious food.” – Chef Michael Dacquisto
Alena will have a rustic feel to it as opposed to the white table cloth suburban offering of his eponymous previous effort. Dacquisto hopes Alena will become known as one of a handful of quality spots in Winnipeg where everything is made from scratch.
"People can relate to the fresh simplicity of a lot of Italian food," he said. "Just using a few ingredients you can make a lot of delicious food."
They all agreed the location was too big for one store and are keen to explore the concept of running two different restaurants essentially out of the same room. The hope is that splitting it into two 85-seat spots, and utilizing the room for the entire day it will create a busy destination all day and night.
Dacquisto said, "If we’re being smart we should be able to cross over our high quality ingredients between the two places and there will be an efficiency there as well."
Social distancing will be exercised and they will deploy some Plexiglas shields like other Wow locations are doing, but with only 50 per cent capacity currently allowed there are obvious obstacles to success.
"How stupid am I, opening during a pandemic," said Stephen, one of the most successful restaurateurs in the city.
But Stephen said, "It is not fun out there. We are still having challenges. But to have this opportunity to do something as we are bringing other of our concepts back slowly is pretty exciting."
As for sharing the same space with another operator, both Cattani and Dacquisto have worked together before and are looking forward to this experiment.
Still, Cattani joked, "We’re probably going to have to go to regular couples counselling."
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.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.