Hamilton’s waterfront could soon feel like Miami Beach or Las Vegas, say the owners of Sarcoa, an expansive new restaurant and entertainment venue opening at Pier 8 Wednesday.

Co-owners Sam Destro and Marco Faiazza believe the 550-seat venue will offer a sophisticated and lively yet intimate, atmosphere.

Sarcoa boasts a 350-seat patio, two stages and bars (one indoor, one out), five private cabanas with gas fireplaces, and a view of Hamilton's harbour.

"There’s nothing else this elegant here," Destro said. "We wanted to make people think twice about going away from Hamilton."


The owners have high hopes for this waterfront property. (Kate Adach/CBC)

In the short-term, the venue will offer live music every weekend, starting with a performance by Sharon Musgrave this Friday.

In the longer-term, the space — a partial renovation to the former Discovery Centre building — will provide opportunities for conferences, weddings or film festival screenings in the neighbouring auditorium.

For the owners, it’s the first of two planned venues within the same building. They intend the smaller of the two, Pier, to be used exclusively for private bookings and events. It will open in October.

Sarcoa has already been booked for a number of events heading into the fall, Destro said.

The co-owners have leveraged their existing petroleum and construction businesses to finance the new venture. Although there’s no guarantee it will work out, the partners invested in the property because "we believe this is a growth area with potential," he said.

Growing the Waterfront

Sarcoa is "nothing but a positive addition," said Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, who has served on the Waterfront Trust board. It fits right into the city’s "Setting Sail" master plan for the waterfront, which would include new commercial operations, condo units, hotels and cultural spaces, he said.

Werner Plessl, the Waterfront Trust’s executive director, shares the same sentiment. "I think it’s terrific," he said.

Plessl hopes that Sarcoa will demonstrate what can be done on the waterfront so that the area will become a "multi-use" space.

The main obstacle to further commercial developments, however, is that the Port Authority has a lease on most of the surrounding land. This lease could be held for another three to 13 years, Plessl said.

Meanwhile, the Harbour-West trolley tours, outdoor roller-skating rink and William’s Fresh Café have all been attracting increasing numbers of people, he said. The area has seen "50,000 paying customers a year."

Sarcoa’s owners point to other areas of the city to demonstrate Hamilton’s economic gains, like the recently built Staybridge Suites hotel or the expansion of the Hamilton General Hospital.

"There’s a lot of wealth in this city," Destro said. Sarcoa, he expects, will attract "affluent people."

But city councillors "have to help us," the co-owner said. "We have to put pressure on our local councillors to beautify (the area)."

Offering the Unexpected

The new restauranteurs could easily have bought a popular franchise, but decided to go the independent route.

They didn’t want to be trapped by "corporate edicts," Destro said of their decision to stay independent. "There’s too much commercialization and homogenization," he said.

But, as Marvin Ryder, a professor at the DeGroote School of Business, points out, statistically, franchise operations have a far higher success rate than independents.

Destro and Faiazza "don’t have a recognizable brand name, like the Keg or Milestones," he said. "With a name like ‘Sarcoa,’ they’re going to have to spend some time (branding themselves)."

"Sarcoa" is a play on the owners’ names: Sam and Marco, Destro said. But on UrbanDictionary.com it’s also defined as "to do what’s unexpected," said Adam Hall, the restaurant’s general manager, laughing. "We liked what the name represented."

"Too many restaurants feel the same," he said. "We wanted to do something that no one else does."

Hall worked out the menu with executive chef Wes Lesco, so that their offerings would be familiar, but "with a new spin."

Nearly all of their items will be made in-house, including the ketchup, mustard and burger buns.

The owners say they’re up to the challenge of building their brand. They have been promoting their restaurant through "aggressive" business-to-business marketing; forming partnerships with cruise lines and reaching out to their corporate networks.

They’ve connected with many already: this weekend, they expect to host Mike Weir and folks from the Canadian Open, Destro said. In the fall, 200 conference delegates from Ottawa have already reserved the venue. At the end of the year, Destro and Faiazza would like to host the "biggest New Year’s Eve event in the city." And next summer they expect to host attendees from an NBA 3 on 3 tournament, a Tall Ships event and Ribfest.

"With this space, there are so many fun things you can do," Hall said. Instead of dictating to Hamilton what Sarcoa has to be, he said "we’ll let the public decide what they want to use it for."