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The pain of opening a restaurant
Twin Pine Diner and Kilt & Castle both experience rough start

Karen K. Ho
Northern News Services
Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No one said starting a restaurant would be easy.

NNSL photo/graphic

Twin Pine Diner owner Robin Wasicuna said his restaurant will re-open on Sept. 2 with a new liquor licence, point-of-sale system and new staff. - Karen K. Ho/NNSL photo

New entrants Twin Pine Diner and The Kilt & Castle have both had difficulties in their first few weeks of operations.

Twin Pine owner Robin Wasicuna told Yellowknifer business so far has been great. However, staffing issues are why his restaurant had to close for most of last week and will be closed again this week after a completed brunch service over the weekend.

"I just don't have any staff," he said. "One of my friends was only here part-time to help us out and he had to leave. We're down to just a few people in the kitchen and there's where I need to be. I can't really do both."

According to Wasicuna, four staff members were lost in quick succession - two servers left and the kitchen's sous-chef also had to leave for a few days due to personal reasons.

"When you take a hit like that, there's not much you can do."

Wasicuna said he would rather be closed than have the quality of food or the service suffer from the insufficient amount of staff currently on hand.

The former Chopped Canada contestant recently shut down his Wiseguy food trailer at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre Aug. 17 to focus on the diner, which he plans on reopening Sept. 2.

"We got our liquor licence, we're getting a new (point-of-sale) system in place," he said. "Everything's going to be like, a sort of grand re-opening and starting fresh."

While Wasicuna admitted the nine days of closure would result in a financial hit, he expects to be generating a higher average income in the future due to liquor sales.

This will require the hiring of an extra staff member, but Wasicuna was excited about the prospect of offering wine, a variety of micro and imported beers, as well as variations on classic cocktails.

Even with all the staffing headaches, Wasicuna said feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many repeat customers.

"We've gotten a lot of support from the community," he said. "We feel very lucky to have all that."

'Tough' forst week at The Kilt

Over on 49 Street in the heart of downtown, the newly opened Kilt and Castle has had its own opening pains.

Owner Bob Stewart didn't hesitate to call his first week at the Irish pub tough.

"It's a brand new business and there are some gremlins in the machine," he told Yellowknifer.

Like Wasicuna, Stewart said he also experienced staffing challenges.

"You have to find out who's going to sink and who's going to swim early on," he said. "Some people could handle the pressure and some people couldn't. I think if you talk to anybody in Yellowknife, staffing is a big issue, so I've been lucky to get the team that I've got."

Even though there were definitely people who have left already, Stewart said the business is doing great now after its first two weeks. There are now a mix of 15 to 17 staff, evenly split between part-time and full-time staff.

And while the full menu is now available, Stewart said a huge issue was simply the existing technology in the restaurant.

"Getting used to the point-of-sale system was a big deal because we just inherit it from the previous company," he said. "When you're doing your ordering, everyone was kind of confused until it was programmed properly with all of our items on it."

Stewart said another problem was the amount of food ordered for the first few days of operation.

"We probably should have ordered twice as much," he said. "The place was packed ever since we opened up, which we didn't expect."

While burgers and shepherd's pie have been the most popular food items, Stewart said Smithwick's has become the most requested specialty beer on tap, with The Kilt going through five kegs of the Irish red ale in its first week.

As for the future, Stewart only expects to get busier as he prepares to run as the Libertarian candidate for the upcoming federal election.

"That's something I was going to do even before I knew the bar was going to be a possibility," he said. "I've been with the Libertarian party preparing for the election since March or April. I was already committed prior to the bar."

As for concerns that he won't be able to juggle the responsibility of campaigning and being the owner of a new pub, Stewart said he wasn't worried.

"As staff here manage their positions I'm getting more time during the day and can handle it all," he said.

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