Chez Sophie chosen for ex-Sal's site on Esplanade Riel

Chez Sophie Bistro, a small St. Boniface business, has been chosen to fill the vacant restaurant space on Winnipeg's Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge.
St. Boniface bistro Chez Sophie has been chosen by the City of Winnipeg to take over the space on the Esplanade Riel foot bridge where Salisbury House used to be. 1:39

Chez Sophie Bistro, a small St. Boniface business, has been chosen to fill the vacant restaurant space on Winnipeg's Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge.

CBC News first reported about the bistro after finding a recommendation in a downtown development report for the City of Winnipeg.

Chez Sophie's five-year lease will start April 1, if the report's recommendation is approved by city council.

The bistro, which first opened in 2005, is currently located in a small, blue building on the corner of Avenue de la Cathédrale and Langevin Street in central St. Boniface.

Chez Sophie owner Stéphane Wild told CBC News he is excited about taking over the Esplanade Riel space, but he plans to keep the existing location open.

The bistro on the Esplanade, which links downtown to Winnipeg's French quarter, will be required to have bilingual menus and signage, and bilingual staff during the summer months.

The city put out an expression of interest (EOI), looking for a new tenant for the site, after it decided not to renew the lease for Salisbury House.

Although Sal's owner Earl Barish wanted to keep the restaurant open he was forced to shut the doors on Dec. 31 after seven years in the unique location above the Red River.

The city received three proposals for the Esplanade site, including that of Chez Sophie.

Salisbury House also submitted a proposal, but Barish had said the chain was prepared to pay for the restaurant's upkeep for only six months of the year.

Provencher Boulevard BIZ pleased

The other applicant was Promenade Bistro, according to the Provencher Boulevard BIZ, which represents business owners in the area.

Anne-Marie Thibert, the association's administrator, says she's thrilled a local French restaurant will take over the space on the Esplanade Riel.

Thibert said the Salisbury House eatery that was there before never really reflected the neighbourhood.

"We just didn't feel that what was existing was really providing that," she said.

"We've always wanted to see a business or a restaurant that could provide a cache, that had basically that francophone flavour."

Thibert said the family that runs Chez Sophie has been quite successful in St. Boniface, but she acknowledged that the new location may pose a challenge for customers and staff.

"Employees will also have to walk to work over the bridge. Will they want to continue to do that?" she said.

"But I think that the benefits certainly outweigh any challenges that they're going to encounter," she added.