Fox and Fiddle brings new life to the Exchange

Popular Toronto franchise comes to Winnipeg, housed in historic building

Jesse Oberman

The most recent player in the Exchange District’s ongoing business resurgence comes from an unlikely place.

The Fox and Fiddle, built into the historic Bank of Toronto building at 456 Main St., is a wildly popular Toronto-based franchise with only a single location west of Ontario.

Yet the 3,100 square foot British-style pub, with its traditional bar fare and abundance of beers on tap, feels like something more home-grown.

At a total renovation cost exceeding $750,000 from various loans and family investments, ambitious entrepreneurs Michael Leger, 23, and business partner Ryan Marcel Daneault, 32, hope to take an already successful business model and contribute to the resurgence of the Exchange District.

They are joined by their mentoring third partner, Rick Penner - the owner of the Windsor Hotel on Garry Street and co-owner of Transcona’s infamous Royal George Hotel.

“We’re part of something more than just a successful business - we’re contributing something to the revitalization of downtown Winnipeg,” said Daneault, who halted pursuit of an accounting degree at the U of M in order to jump into business.

Leger, a Red River College business administration graduate, was a bar hopping young man with a keen business sense when he approached Daneault for a large investment in a new venture - a bar franchise in the heart of downtown Winnipeg.

“He (Leger) said ‘I need ‘x’ amount of dollars,’ which was a large amount,” said Daneault, with a laugh over conversation in a private room at the Fox and Fiddle.

“And, ‘I need to know by next week,’”

Over the course of that week, the two men searched for potential franchises, whereby their passion for business could be strengthened by the backing of industrial knowledge, training and name recognition.

They finally found the Fox and Fiddle: an innovative pub franchise with a massive foothold in the Greater Toronto Area and a location in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Within four months, they had purchased the franchise and by April 2011, they had begun renovations on the Main Street building after a real estate agent affiliated with the corporate entity scouted out roughly 10 potential locations.

“For us, it was really downtown or bust,” said Leger, who looked around at the time and saw a dearth of community pubs in the area.

And, looking now, he has realized the Fox and Fiddle can make an important addition to an already exciting raft of new restaurants and pubs in the area.

Within only a few years, the Exchange District has opened itself to Boa Lounge and Brooklyn’s Bistro at 177 Lombard Ave., Parlour Coffee at 468 Main St., Smoke’s Poutinerie at 131 Albert St., and two South American restaurants - Hermano’s Steakhouse and Corrientes Pizzeria - on Bannantyne Ave.

These businesses are grounded by three popular nightclubs with Whiskey Dix, Opera Ultralounge and Alive in the District all within short walking distance.

What makes the Fox and Fiddle unique, according to Leger?

The menu features traditional pub fare - from chicken wings and salads to burgers and fries - done in unique, flavourful ways. Meanwhile, its drink menu is replete with beers unavailable or in short supply elsewhere in Winnipeg.

“What we do, we do well,” he said, adding the ambiance and the building itself is a unique renovation and architectural project.

456 Main St. once housed the Bank of Toronto (now Toronto Dominion bank). It is a building erected in the early 1900s and sandwiched between two retailers - Imperial Dry Goods and the Blue Store, according to Heritage Winnipeg.

Built based on French Renaissance architecture, the banking hall interior was designed by Montreal architect H.C. Stone at a total cost of $200,000, with marble counters and 15-foot panelled walls resembling a Roman temple.

The building is believed to be the first bank in Canada to have a marble facade.

Published in Volume 67, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 24, 2012)

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