The pursuit of WOW! in Winnipeg

Showing off what 529 is famous for.
Showing off what 529 is famous for.

For many years, the Winnipeg restaurant scene consisted of either local mom-and-pop shops or large scale chains, with no middle ground offered.

Doug Stephen saw that there was a niche there for the taking: something that offered the same great food that the local restaurants provided, while working under an umbrella dedicated to outstanding ambience, service and dining. Doug, together with partners Janet Cunningham and Jim Armstrong, founded WOW! Hospitality.

Doug has been dealing with food since his youth and went into the hospitality business after leaving university, getting his start with the Old Spaghetti Factory and The Keg. It was at this time that he met future partners Janet and Jim, and eventually joined with them in 1995 to start what is now WOW!. Janet and Doug had already partnered on dinner theatre locations, Celebrations, in Winnipeg and Jubilations, in Alberta.

The name for WOW! stemmed from a conversation between Jim and Doug, when Jim pointed out that Doug was reading a book by Tom Peters called The Pursuit of WOW!: Every Person’s Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times. Doug noted that what he wanted to do was to wow people when they came through the door.

“We now have what we call the Seven Pillars of WOW!,” said Doug.

“If we don’t follow those seven pillars, we’re probably not going to achieve what we want to achieve,” he added. “It hasn’t all been home runs: we’ve had some successes and we’ve had some challenges along the way. When those happen, we regroup and come up with really interesting ideas for Winnipeg.

“The goal was not to have a chain of the same restaurant. It was to have a regional chain of loose entrepreneurial spirits to help us develop dining, hospitality or entertainment experiences for the public at large.

“In our own way, we want to wow people with what we have,” said Doug. “We can never ever forget that service is such a key component of that. You’ve got the concept and the food, but you also have to deliver the service. People in our industry evaluate you every single time they visit. They’re coming in based on reputation and brand recognition, and it’s up to you to deliver on a consistent basis.”

WOW! around Winnipeg

The elegant interior of 529.
The elegant interior of 529.

529 Wellington

529 Wellington Cres., 204.487.8325

The flagship of the WOW! Hospitality Brand, 529 Wellington is one of Canada’s best known steakhouses. Located in a mansion built in 1912 and renovated in 2001, 529 offers luxury dining through its menu, ambience and staff.

“We set out to be the premiere steakhouse in Winnipeg, right from the get-go,” Doug Stevens said. “We built it that way, we embraced the fact that the Ashdown House was what it is. Serving only the highest quality beef, and providing the highest quality service. Having a commitment to that level of quality has very quickly turned 529 into the iconic destination that it is.”

 

Celebrations Dinner Theatre

1824 Pembina Hwy., 204.982.8282

Described as “dinner theatre with a difference”, Celebrations offers up humorous musical spinoffs of popular films, TV shows and musical genres while the audience enjoys a four-course meal. The servers are also characters of their own, making for an entertaining evening.

 

peasant-interior-dining-roomCarne Italian Chophouse

295 York Ave., 204.896.7275

In September of this year, the restaurant known as DT

Urban Kitchen + Oyster Bar became an Italian Chop House. The restaurant now combines the best parts of the former Dacquisto and Pasta La Vista restaurants, adding some new elements to make it its own.

“We’re going to bring some of the early features back, and I think it’s going to be a pretty cool restaurant,” said Doug.

 

Mon Ami Louis with a view of the Red River.
Mon Ami Louis with a view of the Red River.

Mon Ami Louis

50 Provencher Blvd. (on the Esplanade Riel), 204.938.2226

Perched 11 metres above the Red River, Mon Ami Louis is the only bridge restaurant in North America. Mon Ami Louis’ name pays homage to Metis political leader Louis Riel. The menu consists of French cuisine, as the restaurant is located just steps from Winnipeg’s largely francophone neighbourhood of Saint Boniface.

“When it was announced that we were going to be getting the location, Chef Luc Jean approached us expressing an interest in his ‘dirty French’ concept of approachable French food. We stay true to our roots and always have bilingual staff, and were blessed by the fact the city allows us to keep it as a seasonal restaurant. We can close Oct. 1 and open April 30 if we so choose.”

Muddy Waters

15 Forks Market Rd., 204.947.6653

Muddy Waters serves up BBQ, burgers, pub grub and southern hospitality at the Forks. Patrons can choose to eat on the patio, which is located just a few yards from the meeting point of the Assiniboine and Red rivers.

“We’re slowly evolving Muddy Waters into more of an eatery with comfort food, so that if people don’t want BBQ, there are options for everybody.”

 

millen-centre-5The New Millennium Centre

389 Main St., 204.226.2018

Located in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District, the New Millennium Centre (NMC) is located in the former home of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Built in 1911, the NMC is one of Winnipeg’s most ornate event venues. Guests can choose between the 6,000-square-foot Celebration Hall, or the more intimate Tapestry Room, which was previously used as the bank manager’s office.

“We have the opportunity to host 300 to 350 people at NMC,” said Doug. “Paul Haverstock, who had previously directed catering at the Fairmont Hotel for 26 years, joined us as our director of catering. Mon Ami Louis Chef Luc Jean also contributes to creating the food.”

 

wow_locations_peasant-cookery-18119-copyPeasant Cookery

283 Bannatyne Ave., 204.989.7700

Featuring local and seasonal ingredients and creating everything from scratch, right down to the pickles is just par for the course at Peasant Cookery.

“It is the ‘honest food from the land’,” said Doug. “Our chef there, Tristan Foucault, likes to make everything by hand. His mayonnaise isn’t out of a jar, his ketchup isn’t out of a jar. Peasant Cookery is really a neighbourhood place for the foodies who like to experience well-thought-out dishes. People utilize it as a place to go and drop in.”

 

Prairie’s Edge

2015 Main St., inside Kildonan Park, 204.284.7275

Nestled inside one of Winnipeg’s biggest parks, Prairie’s Edge offers unique Canadian cuisine, featuring pasta made with Canadian wheat, as well as favourites like pickerel and grass-fed Manitoba beef.

“Not only is it a destination of Kildonan Park goers, it’s a destination for the neighbourhood,” Doug explains. “It’s nice to be able to sit outside on the patio, look over the park, sip on a glass of wine or a draft craft beer and see what’s going on in the neighbourhood.”