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

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@cbncompass.ca
Published on June 1, 2013
New construction next to The Keg
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

 

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.”

 

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

 Twitter: @TelegramDaniel