Boring downtown, you say? These three restaurateurs would beg to differ

The 20-seat cocktail bar, Stolen Goods, sits at 106 Sparks St.

It would seem like a recipe for disaster. Open an intimate bar in the wake of a global pandemic, situate it in a downtown struggling with foot traffic, and stay open until 2 a.m. in a city reputed to roll up the carpet at 6 p.m.

Mike Campbell, Ray Tang and Adam Ghor did just that and can’t believe the reception they’ve had.

“We thought we would go small and then be able to eventually build up to being a profitable business, but it’s been just fully packed from the get-go, which is great but not what we expected,” Campbell tells OBJ.

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The three men wanted to mix things up when they launched their 20-seat cocktail bar, Stolen Goods, at 106 Sparks St. 

They vowed to never close early, serve food to 2 a.m., have a minimalist kitchen behind the bar, and maintain a predilection for two-week pop-up menus.

Basically, they thumbed their noses at the usual expectations for a high-end night spot. But nearly one year since opening, few expectations have been more disrupted than their own. 

Campbell says word-of-mouth and the freewheeling vibe have fuelled the unanticipated buzz. It’s helped that all three have worked in Ottawa restaurants for the past 10 years. Most recently, chef Ghor was at Atelier, while Campbell and fellow mixologist Tang worked at Gitanes. 

“I think that everyone knows who we are and knows that we want to do this, it’s not just another business that’s here to make money. We want people to come and hang out and have a good time,” Campbell explains.

Many of their customers come from the restaurant sector, drawn by industry kinship, the late-night kitchen and discounts after 11 p.m. 

Campbell admits uptake has been slower for the corporate and government clientele they had expected. “They’re kind of finding out about it slowly by being on Sparks (Street) and stumbling in and then they kind of decide whether they like it or not,” he explains. 

The intimate and idiosyncratic approach works at Stolen Goods because the space is small, 700 square feet, and the owners are the ones working behind the bar, Campbell says. He describes the business as more like an extension of the owners’ personalities. 

“I think our vision was just like, let’s work for ourselves, see how it goes,” he says. “We all know that we’re very good at what we do individually. And if we just come in and do that every day, then this will continue to churn and continue to work.”

Also, small batch food and drink with fewer seats was all the trio could afford. Campbell and his co-owners couldn’t get a bank loan during the pandemic and instead poured their savings into the venture. Campbell says they were all fearful of being laid off due to the pandemic but decided to take a risk and open their own restaurant.

“We were probably 50-grand short of what we needed to open this place and we got lucky enough to pay some bills after we opened and got through it,” he says. 

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