PJ L’Heureux is a well-known Calgary businessman who owns and operates several bars and restaurants in the city, including CRAFT Beer Market, Trolley 5, St. James Corner, Home & Away, as well as being a partner in Jameson’s, Commonwealth and Rodney’s. He spoke with Calgary’s Business about the industry.
Calgary’s Business: How hard was the restaurant and bar industry hit in Calgary and in Alberta during the recession years of 2015 and 2016?
L’Heureux: Retail and restaurant I believe were late to be affected, so 2015 was not too bad early, 2016 was a tough year, and because we were affected later, we are still feeling a significant impact in 2018. With almost 30 per cent vacancy in the downtown core, and corporate expense accounts cut back or eliminated, the downtown business has been the hardest hit. The biggest impact we’ve noticed is our average guest cheque is down almost 30 per cent. So even if you had the same traffic, your sales would be down just due to the spend.
CB: Where do you think we’re at right now on the economic cycle?
L’Heureux: As I mentioned above, we are still very much in the recession. Alberta as a whole seems to be better but Calgary has been the hardest hit in the corporate sector. From our standpoint, it will still be a few years to come out of it.
CB: What impact does rising minimum wages have on your businesses?
L’Heureux: This is a significant impact on our business. Our biggest cost and our biggest asset is our people. So although our team is our biggest asset, when our labour costs rise by over 40 per cent in a short period, it’s very hard to react. Most restaurants and retail have two choices – raise prices or cut jobs. I think the unfortunate piece is prices have to increase and hours have to be reduced – so the ones mostly affected both by reduced hours and job openings are the very people getting minimum wage.
CB: Why is Calgary such a good market for the restaurant and bar industry?
L’Heureux: Calgary is an amazing city. I was born and raised here, and would have it no other way. I think Calgary is adventurous when it comes to food, the city craves new and exciting offerings, so this breeds very healthy competition. It’s a city full of entrepreneur spirit so you can see that come out in all the great new restaurants.
CB: What new establishments can we expect to see open in the near future?
L’Heureux: For us, we opened CRAFT at Southcentre Mall in September and now are focused outside of Alberta. Our next CRAFT location opens in Kelowna in June 2018. We also are celebrating our seventh anniversary at our original location on 10th Avenue (in Calgary), and fifth anniversary in Vancouver and Edmonton.
– Mario Toneguzzi
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