Quebec restaurant chain Foodtastic acquires Ottawa’s Big Rig Brewery

big rig
Big Rig Brewery co-founder and brewmaster Lon Ladell. Photo by Mark Holleron

A Quebec-based restaurant chain has bought the Ottawa region’s second-largest craft brewery in a bid to tap into the Ontario food and beer market.

Foodtastic, which operates 55 restaurants under seven different banners, mostly in Quebec, announced Monday it has acquired Big Rig Kitchen & Brewery. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Big Rig brewmaster and co-founder Lon Ladell is boosting his equity stake in the brewery and will continue to oversee its brewing operations.

“We’ve gotten the business to a point where it was time to look at what the next steps are, the next level,” he told OBJ Monday afternoon. “We thought the best thing to do would be to bring in a new partner who could help us get there.”

Launched in 2012 by a group of backers that included former Senators defenceman Chris Phillips ​– whose nickname inspired the brewery’s moniker ​– Big Rig quickly gained a devoted local following, opening restaurants in Gloucester and west-end Ottawa in addition to a 16,000-square-foot production facility in Kanata.

Big Rig is now the region’s No. 2 craft brewer, employing 160 people and churning out four million litres of beer annually. Its products are sold in more than 1,000 locations across Ontario, including LCBO outlets, the Beer Store and grocery stores, and it serves more than 5,000 customers a week at its eateries.

The craft brewer’s signature Big Rig Gold brand and other varieties can also be found on shelves in Alberta, Newfoundland and New Brunswick. Ladell says joining forces with Foodtastic will give it more marketing clout in those provinces and open doors to distribution opportunities at restaurants and other locations in Quebec.

“Having these guys as partners with their contacts will definitely help get us into those markets in a stronger footing,” he said.

Founded in 2016, Foodtastic operates restaurants under the Au Coq, Bacaro, Carlos & Pepe’s, La Belle et La Boeuf, Monza, Nickels and Souvlaki Bar brands. The chain has more than 2,500 employees and annual sales of $125 million, but currently owns just one restaurant outside of its home province.

Foodtastic CEO Peter Mammas said Monday the chain plans to open at least five restaurants in Ottawa and Toronto over the next 12 months under the La Belle et La Boeuf, Monza and Souvlaki Bar banners.

The company also hopes to double the number of Big Rig restaurants by next year, he said, with the goal of tripling the brand’s sales over the next 18 months. Mammas wouldn't get into specifics, but he said in a news release on Monday that Foodtastic is "already looking at locations in Toronto."

Mammas said bringing Big Rig into the fold gives the Quebec-based operation instant credibility as it prepares to make a splash in the country’s most populous province.

“They’re really well-known because they have great beer,” he said. “I think it helps us with landlords also because they know the brand in Ontario. Sometimes when you tell them ‘La Belle et La Boeuf,’ they go, ‘What?’”

Mammas said the Ontario government’s plan to allow convenience stores to sell beer could be the springboard to massive growth for small brewers, and he believes Foodtastic’s connections to alcohol distributors will give Big Rig a leg up in the competition for shelf space.

“We’re pretty confident that once the law goes into effect that you’re allowed to sell at convenience stores that we’re going to secure quite a few of them,” he said, adding he expects Big Rig’s beer output to increase by 25 per cent annually over the next few years.