New businesses in Edmonton's historic Gibbard Block set to open

After a successful Kickstarter campaign and year of renovations, three new businesses in the Highlands neighbourhood are set to open in the next four weeks.

Fox Burger, Highlands Liquor and June's Delicatessen expected to be operating within a month

Michael Forgie and Nate Box stand on the Gibbard Block's rooftop, which will be converted into a patio for The Fox's Burger, with 50 seats and approximately 25 tables. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a year of renovations, three new businesses will soon open in Edmonton's Gibbard Block, a historic building on the corner of 112th Avenue and 65th Street.

Last year, Nathan Box and Michael Forgie, the owners of Black Box Hospitality Group, launched an online fundraising campaign. They asked Edmontonians to help them raise $100,000 to bring their businesses to the Highlands neighbourhood — and they succeeded. 

"We've always felt that if you want change in your neighbourhood, you want to see increased amenities or more walk-ability or just fun and exciting things, we need to band together to do these things," Box said. 

He says the venture was a risk but he's hoping it will inspire others. 

"Hopefully this goes gangbusters and it was the right decision," he said.  "Hopefully it encourages people to do the same thing in their neighbourhoods." 

Burgers, bagels and a boutique liquor store

Within the next four weeks, the public will be able to see the internal transformation of the Gibbard Block. 

Occupying 8,000 square feet of the heritage building will be three of Box and Forgie's businesses: Fox Burger, a craft beer and burger shack; June's Delicatessen, a Jewish-influenced deli serving bagels and pastrami; and Highlands Liquor, a boutique liquor store. 

Three new businesses owned by Black Box Hospital Group are opening soon in Edmonton's Gibbard Block. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Box and Forgie said the general base of the building and all the cosmetic renovations are done. They're now just waiting to install restaurant equipment and the air exhaust system. 

Historical elements preserved 

Built in 1912, the Gibbard Block is a provincial and municipal heritage site.

The building's century-old tin ceiling and tiles remain intact and have been incorporated in Box and Forgie's renovations. They also decided to keep the building's old boiler; it's about the size of a Smart car and heated the building until last year. 

"The first time we walked through this space, it was like walking through a completely different time period. Just the architecture, in general, made us proud to be considered for this spot," said Forgie. 

"When we got offered to take over the lease, it was a pretty easy decision for us just based on how unique the space is."

A snapshot of the Gibbard Block's main floor before it was renovated. This area is now converted into the bar of the Fox Burger restaurant. (Submitted by Nate Box)
A preview of the new Fox Burger's bar space. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Bill Pick, vice- president of the Highlands Historical Society, said a lot of older buildings in the city were torn down in the 1970s, so it's important to preserve buildings like the Gibbard Block.

"I personally cry when old buildings are torn down — and it does happen in the neighbourhood — so when somebody does a good job like this, we're very pleased," Pick said. 

A sneak peek of June's Delicatessen, four weeks before it's set to open. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Enessa Habib, a member of the Highlands Historical Society board, said the building had high-end residential suites in the early 1900s. 

"They were very classy suites at the time," she said. "Each suite had a telephone, which wasn't common at the time, as well as plumbing and electricity and a gas furnace in the basement. It was very innovative in its time."

Restorations began in March last year when La Boheme Restaurant Bed & Breakfast closed its doors after 37 years.

The building was sold to Sparrow Capital on March 31, 2018. The company spent $1.5 million to buy the building and another $2.5 million on the renovations. That includes a grant of $430,000 from the City of Edmonton. 


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