Refining the East Exchange

Hermanos co-owner Noel Bernier has a vision for downtown Winnipeg

  • Noel Bernier, co-owner of Hermanos on Bannatyne Avenue, calls the East Exchange the next epicentre of downtown development. – Cheyenne Rae

To Noel Bernier, the streets and shops of the East Exchange are Winnipeg’s exciting new residential epicentre and the source of a strong community with a vision of the neighbourhood’s future.

“People here have an appreciation for an urban lifestyle,” said Bernier, a local resident and co-owner of Hermanos on Bannatyne Avenue, who has played a major role in redefining the East Exchange as a friendly borough that proudly shares its storied history and architecture.

“There are very few neighbourhoods in Canada that have such a unique dynamic where you see the meeting of the old with the new,” he said.

“I live around here, and I wanted to build something that is reflective of the area and its people.”

The East Exchange is downtown Winnipeg’s fastest-growing area, and has matured through the vibrant entrepreneurialism at its core, spearheaded largely by Bernier.

This spirit drives Bernier to such ambitious heights.

After ending a career that spanned more than 20 years at several energy and agricultural corporations, the Fisher Branch native kept his roots in Manitoba, opening Hermanos restaurant and wine bar.

A frequent visitor to South America, Bernier’s foremost influences originate from Argentina and Brazil, two nations represented by his latest restaurants: Corientes and the soon-to-be-opened Carnaval.

Both located on Bannatyne, Corientes is an Argentinean pizzeria that provides diners with a “slice of Buenos Aires,” and Carnaval will be Winnipeg’s only Brazilian barbecue when it opens its doors on Dec. 1.

“Most restaurants in this area are serious propositions,” reminds Bernier. “They are destinations, and meant to attract the whole city to fill them up. ... Our business plan (for Bannatyne) didn’t require a big clientele from all over the city. But, if they do come, we want them to feel the East Exchange and what it’s all about.”

The rapid development of Waterfront Drive and the impending completion of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights haven’t hurt Bernier’s cause.

Part of a $20-million downtown CentreVenture project that includes housing and commercial space, Carnaval will take advantage of nearby developments such as an 85-unit entry-level condominium that is nearly complete.

“Carnaval is in a brand new building,” Bernier said.

“There was real excitement when we approached the owner and other stakeholders to turn it into a restaurant. It’s such a signature location.”

Business is always front-and-centre for Bernier, an entrepreneur who has found success not just in a neighbourhood he partly envisioned, but in the people who are around him every day.

“Part of the reason we are able to continue this dream of building the neighbourhood is that people around us are incredibly positive and supportive,” he said.

“We have an amazing team of people who believe in the vision. That makes it a much more exciting journey.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 26, 2012)

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