Developer wants restaurant to be a downtown destination - Challenges still ahead for harbourfront project, controversial from the start

Daniel MacEachern
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New construction next to The Keg


Rob Moore’s harbourfront restaurant project has faced challenges since before shovel hit dirt and those challenges will continue even after completion.

But Moore, 53, president of Harbour Walk Hospitality — the company building two restaurants on Harbour Drive next to the Keg — is hoping Legros and Motti will be a downtown destination for residents and tourists. With 367 seats in the 10,000-square foot space — not including the second restaurant — it’s going to need to be.

“It’s big on every scale,” he said. The concept for Legros and Motti, said Moore, is a cross between a French bistro and an Italian trattoria — “upper-end casual,” said Moore — with the names coming from two sets of grandparents.

“I’ve been working on this probably four years,” he said. “I’ve spent 32 years travelling, and looking at ideas, and what I’ve learned over my career, especially in the last four to five years travelling, I’ve put into a concept that, hopefully, will blow this city away. We’re putting a lot into this.”

When Harbour Walk — sister company to the Millennium Group, which also owns the Keg — submitted its plan to St. John’s council in 2011 for the restaurants, being built on land leased from the St. John’s Port Authority, the project was criticized because the authority didn’t put the land out to tender. And with the size of the building becoming clear as the structure is erected, online commenters have raised concerns about it blocking the view of

St. John’s harbour.

Moore suggests criticism from other downtown bar and restaurant owners is overblown, since the new restaurants will draw people into the area instead of pulling them out of the downtown core.

“I have people say, ‘Geez, Rob, thank God you’re doing this downtown and not up on Kenmount Road.’ There’s some, I guess, jealousy, and there’s some legit, ‘Why didn’t we get the chance to get this property?’ (But) I don’t apologize for being the first guy to go out and get the property. I’ve often been the second guy, and I lick my wounds and get on with life.”

And the bumpy road won’t be over when the building is finished — Moore acknowledges both parking availability and hiring will be difficult. He expects Legros and Motti will hire about 200 people, and says the restaurant should be open for business by the end of November, with the second restaurant open sometime the following spring.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “Front of house — servers — doesn’t scare me a lot, because they tend to flock wherever they feel they can make the most money off tables.”

As for parking, Legros and Motti will meet requirements by city regulations, but Moore is banking on the completion of a new parking garage on Water Street to help alleviate downtown parking pressure.

Moore wouldn’t comment on who will occupy the second restaurant, long rumored to be Chinese food franchise P.F. Chang’s.

Two and a half years ago, the price tag for both restaurants was estimated to be $10 million. More recently, the cost of Legros and Motti alone was expected to be $8 million, but the cost has gone well beyond that now, said Moore. He won’t say what the current cost is — “I don’t think our bankers want that on the street,” he says, chuckling — but does say it’s the most expensive restaurant currently under construction in Canada.

“There’s a lot of talk throughout the region right now on this,” he said. “There’s restaurateurs in Halifax talking about what we’re putting on the harbourfront in St. John’s, Newfoundland.”

 Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Millennium Group, Port Authority

Geographic location: Kenmount Road, Water Street, Canada Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • temporary newfy
    August 01, 2013 - 09:21

    I am so happy to read this!!! There is a serious shortage of good places to eat here. Not everyone wants to have newfy food. We need regular food in order to survive here too. Here's hoping to many more chains coming to town :)

  • Jeff
    June 10, 2013 - 11:33

    John wrote: "When a chain does come here it becomes Newfoundlandized" Every restaurant in NL eventually realizes that they need to add fish-n-chips w/ D&G to the menu. It's funny when you go to one of these Italian, Greek, Asian, Pizza, Etc. places and see their menu boasting about having the best fish-n-chips in town.

  • Disappointed former mainlander
    June 10, 2013 - 07:24

    As someone who moved to the city for its uniqueness and culture, we are quickly growing disappointed with the council's lack of vision and planning. This province has 2 main industries currently, one of which (oil) is non-renewable. The other (tourism) is quickly going to dwindle unless the city recognizes the gem that it has in the downtown core. We're not saying don't develop and eliminate unsightly and rundown buildings, but please do it with some kind of vision. It seems this council is trying its damnedest to look like every other faceless city in North America. Then what? Who will come to visit when it becomes like every other bland city. I am looking forward to the Fall council elections and sincerely hope the residents of this city wake up and elect a more caring and responsible group. Otherwise, if this rampant ignorance continues, we're selling and moving out! As for those who say there are no good place to eat downtown, please pull your heads out of the sand and venture downtown. Per capita this city has an abundance of great restaurants with fantastic food. Being someone that has traveled extensively, I feel quite confident in making this comment.

  • John Smith
    June 06, 2013 - 18:59

    @Mainlander(that says it all)...PF Chang's is an excellent chain, and has amazing food. The problem in St. John's is that there isn't a decent place to eat in the whole town. When a chain does come here it becomes Newfoundlandized...and suffers greatly because of it. I have eaten in Kegs in Ontario, Quebec, even NS, and they were all very good, but the one here is awful. I have eaten at the Keg here about 5 times now and the service and the food are sub-par at best. We need more family chains here, like Outback, olive garden, IHOP, etc....but they need to be done right...which if the Keg is any example...will not happen...

  • tom
    June 04, 2013 - 19:58

    Moore (pardon the pun) funny business. If it rules say it needed to go to tender then someone should be looking at why it didn't. Downtown is a mess now anyway, might as well build some high rises and the like... no parking, barred off from the waterfront... I agree Halifax has done a nice job... the city is allowing developers to decide what the downtown will look like without proactively developing a plan. All you need to do to see how much foresight we have is to look at that mess called Stavanger Drive. One road in and out and as many buildings where ever they can squeeze them in.

  • MH
    June 04, 2013 - 10:58

    I’m not too fond of the location that they have chosen & even more so the fact that the Port Authority did not put this up for tender, but who’s to blame here, the person trying to make a dollar or the person who is working for the city? We all know who is/should be accountable. Meanwhile, good on them, it gives something for people to spend their money on & spending it on food is a hell of a lot better than spending it on drugs. The Moore’s cutting down on city crime & drive by shootings, one restaurant at a time!

  • jayg
    June 03, 2013 - 12:31

    I love the people worried about the loss of views at such places like the Murray premises, if you want a protected view buy all the land in front of your business, its downtown people not some ancient temple. But on a positive notes the restaurants will be great and glad the Moore's are behind otherwise it would of been some lackluster dive or remained those terrible kiosks.

    • E Meaney
      June 06, 2013 - 08:47

      This is the beginning of the end of people being able to have access the St. John's waterfront...Finished, done. Sad.

    • E Meaney
      June 06, 2013 - 08:48

      This is the beginning of the end of people being able to have access the St. John's waterfront...Finished, done. Sad.

    • David Wilson
      June 07, 2013 - 08:55

      E Meaney, I would agree if the harbour was something special, ie. baordwalk . It is a concrete apron, aluminum guard rail and a concrete sidewalk. There is nothing apealing about walking the harbour front.

  • mainlander
    June 03, 2013 - 11:55

    Let's hope there are no more chain restaurants downtown. PF Chang's? Gross. How about a locally owned seafood restaurant where nothing is deep fried? That would be a refreshing change. There are so many great chef's in St. John's who could make this successful. Is there a place with the atmosphere and pricing of The Keg that specializes in (non-deep fried) seafood?

    • Expat
      June 29, 2013 - 15:55

      The last thing downtown needs is another chain run by the same owners of The Keg, considering how horrible The Keg is (if I wanted a well done steak, I'd have ordered it that way, not medium rare). However, if PF Changs can make a decent meal, unlike The Keg, it's more than welcome. Considering the few excellent restaurants (such as Aqua, The Club, Raymonds, Chinched) we do have downtown are always fully booked on the weekends, we clearly need more. With a huge expat community moving here from locations with excellent food, there are a lot of people expecting high quality food, which we lack. I'm one of those expats who find St. John's severely lacking in the amenities department. We are also missing much needed medium range options, considering you can get cheap crappy bar food or an expensive meal, but have few choices for something in between that's actually decent and worth paying for. Piatto seems like the only good mid-range option. All new restaurants are going for higher-end, when we already have that market well covered. There are people who want an affordable meal and aren't willing to eat crap from places like Jungle Jim's. St. John's is severely lacking in restaurants given its size, and considering the city is growing, more restaurants desperately need to move in. However, I think elsewhere in town is in more desperate need of restaurants, considering the only thing to eat outside of downtown is horrible fast food or bad chains, like Fog City, Boston Pizza and Montana's. Every time I head home and eat good, affordable food, then I have to come back here, I dread it, but maybe some improvements in the restaurant department could make the return to St. John's bearable.

  • Jay
    June 03, 2013 - 08:22

    The developer need not worry. If past experience is any indication, Council will gladly change any regulations to ensure this gets done.

  • Bill
    June 02, 2013 - 09:43

    Just another case of the rich getting richer at the cost of losing City heritage. We know the Port Authority has no regard for the average resident as evidenced by the new harbour wall. They have no accountability as they let the developer lease the land without going to tender. And they approve of a building so massive that it destroys another of the view planes along the waterfront. We now have a huge building on the waterfront that is supposed to seat 350+ and employ 200 people, but very little parking. Also, the view from the Murray Premises of the harbour has been obliterated. It is really time for a new Council who has some common sense with respect to development. The current crowd are so busy pandering to the business community that they fail to see that they are hurting the history and heritage of this once great City. And, by the way, the view over the top of the new building from the oil companies new office suites in the new tower will be spectacular. too bad it will be off limits to the average resident of the City.

  • Dave
    June 02, 2013 - 09:36

    BIG QUESTION: How did these developers use their strong political connections to avoid going to tender on this property? And, even BIGGER QUESTION; Why are they exempt from paying for parking spaces downtown that all the other restaurants are forced to pay?

  • Dee
    June 01, 2013 - 12:15

    Mr Moore it's great I,m sure you restaurants will take off the Keg a lovely looking building as I,m sure these ones will be,always clean never see food or garbage around the door unlike Water Street most restaurants up there don,t clean around their doors the grounds are so greasy to walk on let alone they don,t clear the side walk winter times,not all but most.But let me ask you this where do you thing the parking is coming from there is not even a wheel chair parking in front of the building ,not even in front of the Keg.Think of these people who enjoy to eat out but cannot park anywhere they do deserve a place to park not across the Street where most can,t dodge traffic..Looking forward to trying this new restaurant out.

  • Beverley Manuel
    June 01, 2013 - 10:57

    It will be a long time before I go to the downtown again to eat. My husband and I have tried twice in the past month to go to the keg for dinner. We circled and circled around and around from a great distance Harbour Front to Duckworth St, Could not find a parking place metered or not. The only place available was the paid lot by Templeton, but the price would you believe was $$$$$14.00 because of a "special events" at Mile One that is just outrageous. So we will be keeping away from the downtown unless it improves dramatically.

    June 01, 2013 - 09:25

    What happened to the Olive Garden. I was told it would be built next to the Keg. Disaointing.

    • Wilson Davidson
      June 07, 2013 - 08:58

      Rumors, rumors. I heard just yesterday that Disney was planning on building a theme park out in Dannywood called Newfieland.

  • Jeremiah
    June 01, 2013 - 07:17

    Surely we could have used more imagination when planning the development of the waterfront! While restaurants are ok, this is the wrong place for this type of development. City should look at what Halifax has done with its waterfront and learn. It will fit in nicely with the ugly scar on the southside hill.