Ris­ing costs turn up heat on Mar­ket eater­ies

Hy­dro hikes, park­ing woes mak­ing life tough for high-end din­ing es­tab­lish­ments in pop­u­lar tourist zone, ob­servers say

Ottawa Business Journal - - RESTAURANTS - BY DAVID SALI david@obj.ca

News that an­other ac­claimed ByWard Mar­ket restau­rant is clos­ing its doors is a fur­ther in­di­ca­tion of a shift in the city’s culi­nary land­scape, in­dus­try ob­servers say.

The own­ers of Mur­ray Street an­nounced in late Au­gust that the eightyear-old busi­ness’s last night will be New Year’s Eve. They blamed the de­ci­sion partly on a chal­leng­ing cli­mate for restau­rants in the pop­u­lar tourist district.

Re­tail an­a­lyst Barry Na­ba­tian of mar­ket re­search firm Shore-Tanner & As­so­ciates said a num­ber of fac­tors have con­trib­uted to the demise of sev­eral high-end restau­rants in the neigh­bour­hood. Hy­dro rates have risen far faster than the rate of in­fla­tion over the past sev­eral years, he noted, and taxes and in­sur­ance costs have also been con­sis­tently go­ing up.

“These have all been work­ing against small busi­nesses in gen­eral and restau­rants in par­tic­u­lar,” he said.

Restau­rant own­ers have been forced to pass on some of those in­creased costs to cus­tomers, Mr. Na­ba­tian said. But even then, most es­tab­lish­ments are reluc­tant to raise prices enough to com­pletely make up the dif­fer­ence for fear of pric­ing them­selves out of the mar­ket.

“They’re re­ally caught be­tween a rock and a hard place,” he said.

Even still, cus­tomers are feel­ing the pinch and are start­ing to cut back on eat­ing out, Mr. Na­ba­tian ex­plained.

“Peo­ple are find­ing (the price in­creases) are too much,” he said.

Mr. Na­ba­tian and oth­ers say the ByWard Mar­ket in par­tic­u­lar is go­ing through a bit of a rough patch right now. Mur­ray Street’s own­ers said a lack of park­ing and a grow­ing per­cep­tion that the Mar­ket is be­com­ing more of a bar des­ti­na­tion than a restau­rant haven are hurt­ing busi­ness.

Ross Tavel, a real es­tate agent at Royal LePage Per­for­mance Realty, agreed.

“I feel like it’s turn­ing from what used to be a place where you would want to sort of go as a cou­ple or a fam­ily into a nightlife des­ti­na­tion,” said Mr. Tavel, who bro­kered the sale of Mur­ray Street’s build­ing at 110 Mur­ray St. to an­other group con­nected to the food in­dus­try. “And the traf­fic is aw­ful. I think that’s been driv­ing busi­ness away.”

Oth­ers who keep a close eye on trends in the Mar­ket say they are see­ing a shift in the type of din­ing es­tab­lish­ments in the neigh­bour­hood. A num­ber of other well-re­garded ByWard Mar­ket

“I feel like it’s turn­ing from what used to be a place where you would want to sort of go as a cou­ple or a fam­ily into a nightlife des­ti­na­tion. And the traf­fic is aw­ful. I think that’s been driv­ing busi­ness away.” – REAL ES­TATE AGENT ROSS TAVEL, WHO BRO­KERED THE SALE OF THE MUR­RAY STREET RESTAU­RANT BUILD­ING

restau­rants have said farewell in the past cou­ple of years, in­clud­ing Do­mus Cafe and the Em­pire Restau­rant, for­merly the Em­pire Grill.

“I don’t think the restau­rant in­dus­try is by any means dy­ing in the Mar­ket, but it is chang­ing,” said Bruce Wolf­gram, a vice-pres­i­dent at Primecorp Com­mer­cial Realty who rep­re­sents a num­ber of com­mer­cial ten­ants in the area.

“We’re see­ing fewer and fewer high­end restau­rants there, but there ap­pears to be be­gin­ning to be a good abun­dance of mid-priced restau­rants.”

Mr. Na­ba­tian said the ByWard Mar­ket, like any other en­ter­tain­ment district, must adapt to chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and evolv­ing tastes if it hopes to stay rel­e­vant.

“It just has lost its dy­namism and ex­cite­ment,” he said. “It hasn’t been chang­ing with the times.”

Still, Mr. Tavel said he’ll be sorry to see Mur­ray Street and its cel­e­brated cui­sine go.

“There’s no other restau­rant that served all the Cana­dian meat and game that these guys did,” he said. “They had a niche, and they did it with style and qual­ity from top to bot­tom.”


Ross Tavel of Royal LePage.

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