With an eye to reducing his role in the industry, veteran Ottawa restaurateur Ion Aimers has turned over one of his Centretown holdings to some familiar faces.
Aimers, a partner in several iconic local eateries including the Pomeroy House, Fraser Cafe and the Rowan Gastropub, has sold coffee house Arlington Five to the owners of growing Ottawa chain Happy Goat Coffee. Terms of the deal were not released.
Aimers, who sold his well-known gourmet burger chain The Works eight years ago for $10 million, will soon turn 60. He said he wants to gradually scale back the number of establishments in which he owns a stake as he starts to look toward retirement.
“There are some good, small independent chains here in town and the first one I approached was (Happy Goat),” he told OBJ on Monday. “We already were using their coffee, so we believed in their baseline product.”
The longtime restaurant owner doesn’t drink coffee himself, but he says he knows a good thing when he sees it.
Happy Goat, which now has five coffee houses under its umbrella, has garnered a loyal following since it began roasting and selling its own beans under founder Pierre Richard about eight years ago. The company, which gets its coffee from farmers in Africa, Asia and Central and South America, now has more than 100 wholesale customers in addition to its retail locations.
Richard sold the company to current co-owner Henry Assad several years ago. Partner Ahmet Oktar bought into the operation about two years ago, and since then Happy Goat has expanded its stable of retail shops from the original location on Laurel Street, just west of the Trillium O-Train line, to include two more coffee houses under the Happy Goat banner on Elgin and Wilbrod streets as well as I Deal Coffee on Dalhousie Street and now Arlington Five.
“They keep it simple and seem to do a good job.”
“They keep it simple and seem to do a good job,” Aimers said.
The connections between Aimers and Arlington Five’s new owners run even deeper than the brand of java A5 sells. Current Happy Coat chef Dominic Paul used to be a part owner of Arlington Five and worked for years just around the corner at diner Wilf & Ada’s, one of Aimers’ other properties.
Aimers said the deal was an ideal fit for both sides.
“I know of Henry, the owner, and he seems like a great guy,” he said. “I think he’ll do well with it, and it fit into an area where he was not present in Centretown. It’s a great place for coffee shops, and it’s done very well for us and for Wilf & Ada’s.”
Oktar said he and Assad jumped at the chance to purchase the small shop just off Bank Street, which has about six part-time employees and has been a profitable venture for Aimers.
“We said yes right away,” he said, adding the entire deal took just a little over a month to come together. “It was a great offer. We had to take it and we took it.”
Oktar said Happy Goat now generates about 60 per cent of its revenues from its stores, with the rest coming from its wholesale operations. The company sells its beans to customers ranging from restaurants and bars to other coffee shops and offices, and employs nearly 50 people.
As for Aimers, he said he’s looking forward to more down time away from the industry.
“I’m still involved with a bunch of restaurants around town and I’m very passionate about them, but at the same time I’m not getting any younger and would like to spend a little bit of my spare time doing other things,” he explained.
The recent minimum wage hike has made what was already a tough business even more difficult for restaurant owners, Aimers added.
“You can’t raise payroll 20 to 30 per cent and expect to just continue to sail along at the same pace,” he said. “It’s just getting really hard to make money. And let’s face it, when it comes down to it, that is the bottom line.”