Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2019 (365 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Wolseley residents have been keeping a keen eye, literally, on the activity happening at the site of the former Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe.
The small building at 898 Westminster Ave. has been under construction since May and will soon be reopened as The Ruby West Restaurant.
Catching people peering between the paper on the windows has been a regular occurrence for the new owners.
"People are so curious," says Laura Hilland, who co-owns the business with her husband Jamie and their friends and former Billabong Gastropub owners, Erin and Peter Keating.
"People will even come inside and be like, ‘What’s going on? What kind of food will you have?’"
That sense of community ownership over the space is something the proprietors hope to maintain when they open the doors — which will be as soon as they get their occupancy permit in the next few weeks.
"We want to be a good place for discourse in our community and for people and strangers to connect and meet their neighbours," Jamie says.
Both couples live in Wolseley and got to know each other when Laura and Erin were serving on the parent council at Laura Secord School.
Opening a restaurant together has been another way to get involved in the community, although the endeavour hasn’t been without issue.
Neighbourhood owner Bill Fugler closed the cafe in August 2018 after 13 years in business.
The new partners made a successful offer, but getting a liquor license took nearly nine months because of local opposition.
Ten residents who live near the restaurant filed concerns about noise and parking with the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba. The groups went into mediation and the owners of Ruby West decided to remove the liquor license on the patio.
The license was approved, but two residents remained in opposition and filed an appeal, which triggered a hearing.
"Without soliciting, we had over 200 letters of support written to us," Jamie says. "That was really encouraging for us because we were getting a little beat up by those two gentlemen."
"To be fair, a liquor license can change the community if it’s not done right or with respect," Erin adds.
The 16-seat patio remains unlicensed, but alcohol will be served in the 44-seat dining room.
All of the cocktails will be named after streets in Wolseley and the menu created by chef Brian Johnson will include appetizer and tapas-style grazing platters; as well as paninis, soups, salads and curries since the restaurant’s newly constructed kitchen doesn’t have a grill or fryer.
Regulars of the Neighbourhood will hardly recognize their former haunt.
The interior was taken down to the studs during renovations and the layout adjusted to make room for the new kitchen and a second bathroom. The walls of bookshelves and knick-knacks that filled the former cafe have been replaced with slate-grey walls, natural wood grain tables and a large bartop made from resin-encased elm.
The local connections run deep at Ruby West. From the interior designer, to the contractor, to the staff, everyone involved in the restaurant lives in Wolseley or has a neighbourhood connection.
"We’re community-minded, we love Wolseley and we’re lucky that we have so many talented friends," Laura says.
The business partners are also busy. Running a restaurant is the cherry on the top of four weekly schedules full of volunteering, raising families and working full time — Jamie is a sustainable transportation planner, Erin is an accountant and Peter is finishing a masters degree in social work.
"We’re doers, I think that’s the one big commonality we have," Jamie says.
Finding the right people to run the day-to-day operations has been key. Laura, who is a glass artist, will be the full-time restaurant manager and a former Billabong staffer has been hired to bookkeep.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.