Starting Up In Ottawa: Startups With Style
Soif, Riviera and Tavern on the Hill: three very different hot-spots
By Jeff Buckstein
A NEW GENERATION OF BUSINESSES in the National Capital Region continue a tradition of innovative design that has been a hallmark of success in the past. Three new restaurants exemplify that spirit.
Soif Bar à vin de Véronique Rivest in Gatineau was carefully researched for several years so owner Rivest, an award-winning sommelier, could offer what she felt was a unique experience to her customers. “I visited wine bars all over the world,” says Rivest. This gave her ideas about the ambience she wanted to convey in her restaurant when it opened in 2014. “I worked with a designer from Montreal. He came up with really original ideas. Glass racks hang from the ceiling. And the underside of the glass rack is printed with wine region maps.”
Most of the restaurant’s walls are covered in wallpaper made of real cork. Some walls, as well as ceilings, are covered in thicker cork floor tiles to help mute sound. The bars are also made of cork tiles, varnished to be liquid proof.
Rivest sees her restaurant as bringing people together to enjoy good food, good wine, and good conversation.
“We have regular height tables with chairs. There are also high top bars with either banquets or stools. The stools look like champagne corks. One is U-shaped where you can seat 12-15 people. The other is one long bar with seating on both sides so people are facing each other,” she explains.
“There’s a lot of variation in the look. It gives a really warm feeling to the space,” she says. “I think if you’re in a bright environment with natural light [that] has a positive impact on openness and creative thinking.” As part of that creative thinking, Soif offers workshops ranging from wine tasting 101 to cocktail making.
André Schad is the principal owner and a partner with Tavern on the Hill, located in the north end of Major’s Hill Park. The outdoor restaurant opened in June 2017 and employed 54 people during the peak summer period.
“There’s really no space like this in the entire city where your backyard is the National Gallery of Canada and your front yard is the river [and] Parliament Hill. If you had to take one snap-shot of Ottawa and its beauty, this would probably be the panoramic site,” he explains.
Tavern on the Hill’s business approach is to aim for simplicity.
“We don’t try to pretend we’re anything we’re not. We’re a hot dog joint that has really nice wine and beer lists. There’s something here for everybody. Everybody’s welcome,” he says.
Schad believes that creativity and design have a positive impact on team building because, he says, employees see that and recognize management is in it for the long run. That makes them want to participate and be part of that success. It is also important to foster innovation and creative thinking among employees, because they’re the front-line people who can tell management what’s gone right or wrong and make suggestions about how to improve the process.
For example, the Canada 150 celebrations contributed to an overwhelmingly busy year in 2017 with long lineups to get in. “We needed input from our staff on how to improve the process,” Schad says.
Riviera, recently named one of Canada’s top 10 new restaurants of 2017 by enRoute magazine, occupies a historic building on the Sparks Street mall. Built in 1936-1937 as the Imperial Bank of Canada, it features Art Deco ornamentation and lots of marble. Just over a year old now, Riviera employs about 50 people.
Some of Riviera’s design, such as the deuce booth and four-top booth configuration, is based on the iconic Mellos Diner in the Byward Market, which closed in 2015. The 3,000 square feet of open space at Riviera was designed to make a wide range of people feel at home, whether they come in jeans and a T-shirt, or suits and heels.
Riviera worked with Andrew Reeves of Linebox Studio on its redesign. The old bank vaults have been repurposed as wash-rooms, wine cellars, and private dining areas, creating a space that appeals to the whole spectrum of people, from artists to lawyers and politicians to the after-theatre crowd.