More than four years after a fire tore through his ByWard Market restaurant, the owner of Vittoria Trattoria says he hopes to begin rebuilding the site in the next few months.
Domenic Santaguida told OBJ on Monday he and his business partners are awaiting permits from the city to officially begin reconstructing two heritage buildings at 55 and 57 William St. that were heavily damaged in an April 2019 blaze that caused more than $2 million in damage.
The buildings had housed Vittoria Trattoria, the eatery the longtime restaurateur owns with partners Stacey Santaguida, Harjeet Singh and Charles Gavsie, for nearly three decades.
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That incident was soon followed by the COVID-19 crisis, which took a heavy toll on his other Vittoria Trattoria location in Ottawa south. All in all, it made for a challenging four-year stretch for Santaguida.
“It could have destroyed us, mentally and physically and everything,” he said of the devastating blaze. “It was really a tough thing at the time.”
The veteran entrepreneur now says that, in a small way, the fire was a blessing in disguise – if only because it gave him the opportunity to rethink a business that could have been devastated by the pandemic.
As part of his plan to reimagine the fire-ravaged space, Santaguida joined forces with York Entertainment Group, which owns the adjacent building at 62 York St. Best known as the former site of Stoney Mondays and Fat Tuesdays, the property was most recently home to a Starbucks that closed early in the pandemic.
“It made sense for our group and their group to work together to kind of create something new,” Santaguida explained.
An expanded Vittoria Trattoria restaurant will be built partly on property at the rear of 62 York St. The new establishment will include dining areas on the ground floor as well as in the basement, providing more seating space.
In addition, the redevelopment will also include a three-storey residential building with 17 short- and long-term rental apartments as well as a 40-seat rooftop patio and event space. Santaguida said the suites will likely be targeted at government contractors, embassy workers and businesspeople in town for extended stays.
The project is being financed with help from a number of equity investors, including executives from construction technology powerhouse Modern Niagara. Santaguida hopes the rebuilt Vittoria Trattoria will be ready to welcome guests in late 2024 or early 2025.
While rising interest rates have driven up the projected price tag, Santaguida remains confident he and his partners are making a sound long-term investment.
“We’re still optimistic that the cash-flow situation still looks good,” he said. “Having the diversification (with the residential component) and having more sources of revenue is pretty huge to make the whole equation work.”
The plan is the latest mixed-use construction project spearheaded by Santaguida, who is best-known as a fixture in the city’s hospitality sector but also has a number of real estate projects on the go.
He’s the lead investor in a six-storey, 50-unit apartment complex, called the Bradshaw on Bank, that recently opened in Old Ottawa South on property formerly occupied by Siam Kitchen, Boomerang Kids and the Barley Mow pub. Almost fully leased, the development also includes about 8,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
Meanwhile, Santaguida has also filed an application to construct a seven-storey rental building with 64 apartments at 1940 Carling Ave., just west of Maitland Avenue.
“The rental market is very strong,” noted Santaguida, adding he will continue looking for other development opportunities around the city.
The Bank Street and Carling Avenue sites are part of a family-owned portfolio that includes pockets of commercial and industrial land as well as property in Beckwith Township, just outside Carleton Place, that Santaguida plans to subdivide into more than 40 residential lots.
The restaurateur comes by his passion for real estate development honestly.
His father Vittorio, a native of southern Italy who settled in Ottawa in 1958, was a bricklayer by trade who later purchased and redeveloped a number of residential and commercial properties in the capital.
Vittorio died in 2020 at the age of 82, but his children and grandchildren carry on his entrepreneurial legacy.
Domenic’s son James, a chef, and daughters Siena and Sophia are all involved in the family business. Siena is managing a new Starbucks location that’s set to open next month at 62 York St., next to the soon-to-be-revived Vittoria Trattoria.
“It’s a complete family affair here,” Santaguida explained. “We all get along and everybody has their role.”