Less than two years into a five-year contract, Winnipeg's only bridge restaurant announced Monday it has closed its doors.
Chez Sophie opened on the Esplanade Riel in St. Boniface in 2013 after Salisbury House, which occupied the space for around seven years, pulled away from the bridge location.
The City of Winnipeg chose Chez Sophie to sign a five-year lease of the unique facility.
- Chez Sophie chosen for ex-Sal's site on Esplanade Riel
- VIDEO: Inside the Chez Sophie location before it opened
The business cited unmanageably high operating costs associated with the bridge space along with dramatic seasonal shifts in sales as reasons for its closing.
Businesses on the other side of the bridge were quick to respond.
"My heart sank," said Constance Menzies of Chocolatier Constance Popp. "It felt like a death in the family. It's just we know them. We know their food. It's fantastic. The ambience is fantastic. It's a very unique location."
But the location is also one of the problems. Customers had to walk over the bridge to access the French restaurant.
"I think it's the parking," said Menzies, adding "I think over and above anything else I think people wanted to go there, it's just hard to get there — especially when it's cold … four, five, six months out of the year."
Provencher Biz chair Shawn Brandson said while it has a unique view, the location is difficult for a food business.
"Back in the day when it first was there I looked at it with my business partner and just the logistics of a restaurant on a bridge: pretty, pretty tricky," said Brandson, "You know the storage and the utilities are a challenge."
The site is owned by the city.
St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard said it's time to rethink the space's potential.
"I think we should go back to the drawing board," he said.
"I think we should consider putting out an expression of interest," Allard said.
"That means basically, hey, Winnipeg, we've got this great space. This is what it costs. What do you think we could put in the space for consideration for council?"
Allard believes the site has a lot of potential.
"It's got one of the best views in Winnipeg," he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a private business in that space. I think we just need to find the right partner and that place is going to thrive."
It isn't yet known what business will fill the void on the bridge, but Chez Sophie took to Facebook to explain what prompted the decision to close.
The following is a translation of that French Facebook post:
Chez Sophie announcement:
After careful and lengthy consideration and consultation with our advisors, it is with great regret that we must announce the closure of Chez Sophie Ltd. on the bridge as of this date.
During our two years of operations, it has become rather obvious that our seasonal income was not sufficient to meet the extraordinary expenses related to a restaurant on the bridge. We have dedicated body and soul to this restaurant for several months trying to find solutions to our precarious situation, even putting our health and our personal finances at risk.
We sincerely thank the City of Winnipeg, Riel Company, CDEM, Women Enterprise Centre, our community partners in St. Boniface and our surrounding suppliers, our accountant, our lawyer Me Laurencelle, our dedicated employees and our customers for their loyal support, even during difficult times.
It was a pleasure for us to serve our clients for two years and offer Winnipeggers and visitors our unique French dishes.
We're sorry to have to make this announcement. We truly were committed to the success of this project.
Sophie and Stephane Wild, Chez Sophie