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This article was published 9/7/2016 (1569 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
You’ve no doubt heard the term hobby farm.
Well, how about hobby restaurant.
This one is called Close Co., and if you’ve been there, you might have figured out the clever play on words.
If not, here’s a hint.
There are only 10 seats.
That’s really close company, but it gets closer than that.
The two owners — partners Cam Chabot and Tammie Rocke — live close to their Stafford Street mini-restaurant and bar.
No, I mean really close, as in right across the street on Grosvenor Avenue.
Cam can walk out his back door in his shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops and be there for coffee faster than he can brew a cup at home.
Which is what he was doing Friday — having a coffee with a friend — when I stopped by to learn why two people with demanding day jobs — he sells dental equipment and she owns her own design company — would open a restaurant .
Never mind one with such a limited capacity.
The short answer is obvious enough.
Because they looked across the street and saw an opportunity where Steve the barber had got close to people in a different way for six decades.
You might want to quickly take a seat for the longer answer.
It really centres around a pride of place Cam feels. That, and how so many of the city’s new wave of restaurant, coffee shop, and tavern owners want to make Winnipeg a better place.
At least that’s how I read it.
Cam has lived in the area since his university days, and in the house across the street since 1992.
"There are days when I love Winnipeg," he says, "and there are days when I hate Winnipeg. It’s an awesome place 99 per cent of the time."
But what he misses is what bigger cities such as Toronto and New York have.
‘"There’s population density, there’s people on the street. There’s life."
There are vibrant neighbourhoods, I suggest.
And that stretch of Stafford Street near Grosvenor Avenue is getting that way because of a restaurant row that’s popped up in the form of the Grove, Tre Visi, Maque and now Close Co.
"It’s just great to go out and run into people," Cam says of the feeling he loves in big cities. "And this little area I’ve been living in for 27 years is the closest to that."
Close Co., the perfect fit of a name, was dreamed up by Tammie’s sister Sonia Rocke during a brain-storming blitz.
But, actually, a restaurant isn’t what they thought of first when the barber shop closed and the space came open.
"When this first came up." Cam says of the space, "we looked at it as an opportunity. We didn’t know what we were going to do with it. But we knew it was a good spot."
The more they thought about it, though, the more they thought about converting it to a restaurant.
For one thing they have role-model relatives in the business. The Yellow Dog Tavern is owned by Cam’s sister, brother-in-law and his cousin, Greg Ash, who manages it.
For another, Tammie has designed several restaurants in the city.
And, gradually, somehow, they convinced themselves there might be the potential to do something small and unique in there.
Since it opened six months ago, with the support of silent partner John Rocke, word has spread, and it has worked.
I suggested, within their limited space, they really have created a small part of the big-city feel he likes. The kind of place with a friendly feel that brings people together to hang out.
"That’s absolutely what it’s about," Cam said.
"We really like the idea of having a New York City kind of Mad Men-like feel in here."
Softened by Tammie’s homey touch of potted plants lining the window sill.
"You can have business people next to artists, whatever," Cam says.
And if there’s no room at Close Co. — which can happen if you don’t get there early enough in the evening — there are the other restaurants nearby.
What the place is really like, I decide after listening to Cam, is what their kitchen across the street has always been.
What kitchen’s everywhere tend to be.
A place for friends to crowd into.
"It’s a natural extension of what I like to do," Cam says. "I like to meet people. I like to hang out in social environments."
"If it was a little bit bigger," he says, "and I wasn’t in the way, I’d probably hang out here more."
Tammie the designer wishes it were bigger, however.
No one else really notices, I tell her.
Because what they’ve created, perhaps without knowing it, is a formula for restaurant success so many bigger places miss.
A place where the meeting is as important as eating. Maybe even more important.
And where being close is what matters.
Updated on Saturday, July 9, 2016 at 1:37 PM CDT: Adds silent partner.
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