For several decades Shindico Inc. has been working at populating Winnipeg with restaurant and retail offerings up and down the market after developing and managing dozens of strip malls, power centres and every manner of retail development.
With traditional bricks and mortar retail faced with increasing disruption and construction and occupancy costs going up, restaurant development also has to be more measured than might have been the case at other points in the economic cycles.
Winnipeggers will always get excited with new restaurant brands moving into the city even though the city’s hard-done-by complex, believing we are missing out on the latest and greatest, is really a thing of the past. In fact, Winnipeg is becoming known as an affordable market to break into and we’ll be the first city in Western Canada to have a P.F. Chang’s.
Michael Stronger, senior vice-president retail and investment and Brennan Pearson, vice-president, ICI (industrial, commercial investment) properties at Shindico explain the presence of some of the new restaurant brands they have helped locate in Winnipeg.
P. F. Chang’s — anyone familiar with the American premium casual Asian fusion restaurant chain will have already identified those two white horse statues on St. James Street as being part of the design elements of the popular American restaurant chain and deduced that’s where the Winnipeg location is to be built.
The multi-million dollar, 6,300 square foot store on the Plaza at Polo Park site (just south of the 24/7 Intouch/Winners building) is scheduled to be open before the end of the year.
It’s the first P. F. Chang’s location in Western Canada (there’s only one other one in Canada, in Laval, Que.) even though there’s 210 of them in the U.S. and close to 100 elsewhere around the world including 25 in Mexico.
Stronger said the Canadian group who have acquired the master franchise rights for Western Canada could have decided to build in Calgary or Vancouver but chose Winnipeg for their first build.
"First of all, they believed in the stability and growth of the Winnipeg market," Stronger said. "They feel this is a great place to launch. If you get a great location in the Polo Park area you are basically guaranteed traffic."
The chain has been around since 1993 and was acquired by a private equity firm earlier this year. It has always preferred a slower pace of growth. It recently broke into the Chinese market and in addition to Mexico, also has locations throughout Central and South America.
Stronger said greenfield restaurant developments of this size are becoming less common because of rising costs.
"Also," he said, "It’s just not easy finding a 1.5-to-two acre site in the right location."
Speaking of locations, this is the first new build on the site of the old Winnipeg Stadium since the fateful development of the Target store. Stronger said Shindico (which owns the site in a joint venture with Cadillac Fairview) turned away dozens of other interested restaurant developers before working with P. F. Chang’s
"They occupy a disproportionate amount of the site," he said. "The landlord was interested in P.F. Chang’s because they bring something exciting to the property."
Edo Japan — This is another chain that has decided to make an investment in Winnipeg. With 138 locations mostly in Alberta and B.C. it has found the right franchisee to start building out street front locations. (There has been an outlet in the Polo Park food court for some time.)
Pearson said it has three locations signed and ready to do staggered openings in the coming weeks at Kenaston Crossing, Sage Creek and Fort Richmond Plaza.
Started in Calgary in the late ‘70s, this quick service sushi and Japanese food shop operates out of formats of between 1,200 and 1,800 square feet. (The Kenaston Crossing location is a former Starbucks that relocated close by with a location that could accommodate a drive-thru.)
"We have been working with Edo Japan corporate for three and a half years to help them find the right candidate for a master franchisee," he said.
Pearson said that while it can be risky to open multiple locations of a new brand in a market, in this case the franchisee group is clearly up for the challenge. It already operates 60 other locations of various brands.
"If you have the back of house experience this group has and the wherewithal, the horsepower and the business knowledge they will be able to tackle a province-wide roll out," Pearson said.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen — When the first Popeyes opened a little more than a year ago in Seasons of Tuxedo adjacent to the Outlet Collection mall at Kenaston Boulevard, there was traffic jams and near hysteria.
"It was literally off-the-charts busy," Stronger said. "I am their representative and I could not believe it. It did not make sense."
A second location in Westwood has just opened and a third in Transcona is coming soon. The franchisee, the Enright Group of Boston Pizza fame, have four more in the works including a soon to be opened location in Portage la Prairie.
The 2,500 square foot Westwood location at 3420 Portage Ave. is the former site of an Hakim Optical store but was originally built for Wendy’s complete with a drive-thru egress and window.
"It’s a very rare commodity (a building already equipped with drive-thru facilities)," said Stronger. "A drive-thru may not be an absolute necessity but they add a substantial amount to the bottom line."
Stronger also touted the strength of the Popeyes franchisee as an extremely important factor in the success of the enterprise.
"This is an example of a local group who holds the master franchise rights for Manitoba and are here and are hands-on, employing a lot of people," he said.
Lot 88 Steakhouse and Bar — The folks at Shindico are hoping they have found a winner for its Pembina Highway location just south of Bishop Grandin Boulevard.
After Earls decided its St. Vital location could handle its south Winnipeg business and moved out of that location years ago, Shindico has sought a permanent tenant. Barley Brothers was there for a few years but even before it closed (along with an Empress Street location) Shindico was trying to get Lot 88 in.
The upscale steakhouse — that features steak served on searingly hot lava stones — was eyeing the location for some time.
"We didn’t even put it on the market," Pearson said. "The owners were keen on that area of the city."
Although that location can have access challenges, the traffic volume and exposure makes it a fantastic location for this Northern Ontario based chain that has aspirations of going national.
Fast Fired by Carbone — and by fast, they mean 90 seconds.
This new quick service iteration of the popular Winnipeg pizza restaurant has just opened its second location in Winnipeg with three more on the way after launching the concept in Brandon earlier this year.
Shindico is representing them in plans to take the concept national. A Yorkton, Sask., location is lined up and will open soon.
Featuring a large coal-fired pizza oven as the centrepiece of the stores, Pearson said Fast Fired by Carbone is part of the experiential restaurant trend enjoyed by millennials who are now the official target market of just about every type of retail vendor.
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.