OEB Breakfast Co., the city’s newest high-end restaurant, bustled with customers Tuesday afternoon, its second day open at 330 Main Street.
Slavna Alieksieieva brought her appetite.
"I was looking forward to visit here," Alieksieieva said.
She’d walked with co-worker Pam Choy to the brunch spot, nestled between the new Earls and GoodLife Fitness. Her order of choice was a scrambled crepe.
"It’s weird, a little bit, to be around people," Alieksieieva said. "It’s exciting — there’s things happening in the city."
She’d eaten at OEB Breakfast Co. in Calgary three years ago. Winnipeg is the restaurant chain’s 16th location.
"I think we’re opening at the right time," said Nate Toews, owner of the downtown location. "I think people are kind of ready to get out there again."
He noted the eatery’s prominence on Main Street, plus its connection to Winnipeg Square and downtown’s Skywalk.
The restaurant’s arrival has been in the works for at least three years. Mauro Martina, OEB’s founder and head chef, said he’d been interested in Winnipeg for a while.
"I think we’re opening at the right time. I think people are kind of ready to get out there again." — Nate Toews
Martina learned of plans for 300 Main — touted as Winnipeg’s tallest building, with 42 storeys — and he wanted in.
The development is also home to 395 apartment suites, an Earls restaurant, a GoodLife Fitness and several corporate offices, including law firms.
"We knew that once the building (was) ready and we had the perfect spot for (the restaurant), the city would embrace us," Martina said.
The pandemic slowed plans: OEB Breakfast Co. could’ve opened six to eight months earlier, but organizers stalled construction, according to Toews.
Still, while many restaurants shuttered over the past two years, OEB Breakfast Co. has plans to keep expanding. It opened in both Winnipeg and West Vancouver Monday. A third Edmonton location will open later this year, Martina said.
He has plans to expand in Toronto, Regina, Victoria and Vancouver next year.
"We had to think outside the box," Martina said of surviving the pandemic.
It meant selling eggs, breads and custom meats at OEB locations and through delivery when customers ordered restaurant meals.
OEB Breakfast Co. highlights its partnerships with farms across Canada, including Countryside Farms in Steinbach.
The egg producer has been with OEB since 2010, Martina said. The Manitoba-grown eggs were among the products OEB sold to keep a steady income.
"Nothing comes pre-made," Toews said of OEB’s menu.
He became interested in OEB after trying a ham and field mushroom crepe in Calgary three years ago.
"It was just so good, I was like, ‘I couldn’t make this,’" Toews said.
Slabs of pork to be shaved into bacon hang from racks in the new Winnipeg eatery. Microgreens that Toews said are Manitoba-grown sit in a fridge beside the meat.
"I think (the restaurant is) going to draw people back into the core even on weekends," Martina said. "We want to be part of that… come back."
The 2,845 square foot restaurant can seat 90 people in its dining room and another 16 on its indoor patio. Around 30 people are employed, Martina said.
He expressed hope that downtown Winnipeg will flourish "over the next few years".
OEB Breakfast Co. is the seventh new business to open in downtown Winnipeg this year, according to Kate Fenske, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s CEO.
"We’re seeing people coming back," she said. "Recovery is definitely happening, but we’ve still got a long way to go."
Fifteen businesses have closed downtown over the past six months, Fenske said.
"Pre-pandemic, we definitely saw about double the number of openings than closures," she said. "We’re starting to creep towards that net zero."
Events are happening again, Fenske noted. The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ is running its fitness classes, concert series and farmers market. Still, not all workers are back in the office, affecting local businesses’ bottom lines.
"We’re seeing people coming back. Recovery is definitely happening, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Pre-pandemic, we definitely saw about double the number of openings than closures. We’re starting to creep towards that net zero" — Kate Fenske
"Workers are… a critical part of bouncing back revenues," Fenske said. "Long term, we definitely need to be focusing more on growing our residential population."
She highlighted 300 Main and Smith Street Lofts as new apartments drawing Winnipeggers.
Post-secondary students’ anticipated return to in-person classes will also help local business, Fenske said. Over 20,000 students commute to the area, she said.
"Running a business in downtown is not cheap," noted Shaun Jeffrey, CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
Many restaurants in Winnipeg’s core aren’t seeing pre-pandemic customer levels, especially during lunch time, Jeffrey said.
"The lunch business is pretty significantly deteriorated, just for the simple fact that there’s a lot of major corporations and businesses that haven’t returned back to downtown," he said.
Typically busier days — like Fridays and Saturdays — are returning to normal traffic levels, Jeffrey said.
"(I’m) hoping to see more focus on trying to get workers back into downtown, especially some of our Crown corporations," he said.
He called OEB Breakfast Co.’s opening a sign that people see downtown as a "viable place to do business".
OEB Breakfast Co. is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
Tenants in 300 Main’s third to 20th floors will begin moving in on Oct. 1, according to Jeff Lukin, Artis REIT’s marketing director. Renters will occupy the 21st through 39th floors next year.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.