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Winnipeg's iconic Salisbury House restaurant chain sold to Hermanos owner

<p>The Salisbury House Restaurant on Regent.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Salisbury House Restaurant on Regent.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/12/2017 (341 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The new owners of Salisbury House of Canada Ltd. want the legions of Sals regulars to know there are no plans to change anything about their beloved Nip, that dreamy red velvet cake or even that famous red roof logo.

In fact, their plans are to do even more to celebrate one of the most iconic, Manitoba-centric institutions there is.

Winnipeg restaurateur Noel Bernier, along with partners that include the Metis Economic Development Fund (MEDF), David Filmon and a number of current Salisbury House senior management, have acquired ownership of the 18-location chain from Earl and Cheryl Barish and their minority partners, who included former Guess Who member Burton Cummings, for an undisclosed sum.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/12/2017 (341 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The new owners of Salisbury House of Canada Ltd. want the legions of Sals regulars to know there are no plans to change anything about their beloved Nip, that dreamy red velvet cake or even that famous red roof logo.

In fact, their plans are to do even more to celebrate one of the most iconic, Manitoba-centric institutions there is.

Winnipeg restaurateur Noel Bernier, along with partners that include the Metis Economic Development Fund (MEDF), David Filmon and a number of current Salisbury House senior management, have acquired ownership of the 18-location chain from Earl and Cheryl Barish and their minority partners, who included former Guess Who member Burton Cummings, for an undisclosed sum.

Earl Barrish and Noel Bernier at the Leila Ave. Salisbury House location.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Earl Barrish and Noel Bernier at the Leila Ave. Salisbury House location.

Bernier said it was an "honour" to take over ownership of what he referred to as his favourite restaurant.

After having started a number of restaurants over the past 10 years in Winnipeg, Bernier has been in the process of divesting operational control — and in some cases ownership — of all of them except Hermanos.

After almost single-handedly transforming the Winnipeg restaurant scene by launching or co-launching nine different restaurant concepts over that time, Bernier said he's "cleared the slate" to immerse himself in the Sals culture.

"This is not just about Noel having another restaurant to run," he said.

All 400 employees and management personnel will retain their positions. While Bernier said no one can guarantee the future of every location, he plans to continue the chain's slow steady growth, especially elsewhere throughout the province. Sals currently has locations in Steinbach and Norway House, as well as all across the city and in Investors Group Field, Shaw Park, a couple of city golf courses and, of course, on North Main.

"We are not looking outside Manitoba at all," Bernier said. "Not to preclude any business decision in the future, but my partners and I are committed to making this a very local-centric business. " 

After living inside the nuanced cutting-edge world of new restaurant concepts for a decade, with people trying to one-up each other with what is trendy and on-spot, Bernier is more qualified than most to understand the unique charm and appeal of Sals.

And while chefs and restaurateurs scramble to execute ever-more local offerings, Bernier is here to tell you that Sals is Manitoba's true farm-to-table restaurant.

It is likely the only chain in the province to exclusively buy beef and eggs from Manitoba producers and procures just about everything from local suppliers.

"First and foremost is to not change anything around the food," he said. That includes Sals' famous commissary that prepares everything for all its restaurants from one location, fresh every day.

There may be some incremental modernizing of the menu, especially around the dinner offering, but Bernier said there's no plans to change ingredients or alter the comfort food effect.

There are currently only two Sals with liquor licenses, which has never been a major marketing feature. Bernier said new management might look for a way to embrace Manitoba's booming craft beer scene in some way.

In addition to Filmon (who's also a partner in Fort Garry Brewing) and MEDF, the new ownership group includes Sals' current senior managers Brad Kramble and Renan Pires, along with entrepreneur Justin Giasson (who will be vice-president of rural growth) and Indigenous activist Rebecca Chartrand (special advisor, community relations).

Barish, 74, who had forged his own quirky career building Dickie Dee into an unlikely national business selling ice cream from custom-designed bicycles, was like a proud grandfather seeing that his offspring has married well.

"I was happy not to find myself in the position of having someone lay a bunch of money on the table (to buy the business) who might not be the right person for the company," he said. "Noel and his group are perfect for the continuation of the brand."

Barish became a passive part of a local ownership group in 2000 that bought Sals back from a Montreal company that had owned it for a decade, but was then thrust into the position of having to save the company from bankruptcy in 2006.

"It was April 19, 2006 at 3:00 to be exact," Barish remembers when got the call from a receivership trustee.

That's when he had to commit to a massive debt restructuring and invest significantly more of his own money to save the company from imminent collapse. Sals had become embroiled in controversy as an innocent bystander to controversial activities of former owners David Wolinsky and Costas Ataliotis, who used Salisbury House's goodwill and profits to pursue a notorious cheque-kiting scheme.

Barish was able to pay creditors back the agreed-upon pennies on the dollar, even though the receivership trustee told him he never thought he had a chance.

Now it generates significantly more than $10 million per year in revenue and has been profitable for years.

Salisbury House has had a unique history of continuously operating since it was started by Winnipegger Ralph Erwin in 1931. In the last 40 years it has had a number of owners, including the Montreal company that owned the grocery chain Steinberg's. 

At various times in its history, locations have come and gone as far afield as North Dakota and Alberta, but loyal Winnipeg customers have never stopped patronizing the restaurants.

"You can get a hamburger anywhere, but you can only get a Nip at Sals," Barish said. "This is more like succession planning than a sale." 

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

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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History

Updated on Thursday, December 14, 2017 at 3:26 PM CST: Updates

8:52 PM: Full write through, adds photo and timeline

December 15, 2017 at 12:40 PM: Clarifies reference to restructuring.

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