Nfld. & Labrador

Slumping economy? $3.75M lotto win? It's not enough to make this St. John's restaurant owner retire

David Primmer could be relaxing on a tropical beach. Instead, he's pulling a restaurant through a sluggish Newfoundland economy.

Does the Fifth ticket have the ticket for success?

Fifth Ticket owner David Primmer says he sometimes thinks the restaurant is on the 'wrong end of Water Street.' (Heather Barrett/CBC)

When David Primmer won nearly $4 million in the lottery four years ago, he didn't sit back and relax.

Instead, he started working harder.

Despite having never worked in a restaurant before, he opened up the Fifth Ticket restaurant and piano bar, named for that winning lotto ticket, on Water Street in downtown St. John's.

"I need to stay busy. I need to keep my brain busy," he said. "I'm not the type of person to sit down and not do anything." 

Want to buy a piano bar? Primmer has just the ticket. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Now he's selling part of it — the piano bar — but it's not to lighten his workload. In fact, he wants to work even harder.

Primmer wants to put all his efforts into the restaurant to see the restaurant through a slumping economy and, hopefully, hand over the piano bar to someone who'd be able to open it more often.

"Right now, we're open two nights a week, and it's busy in those two nights a week," he said.

"So [we] have 3,000 square feet that's being underutilized."

Better support in other provinces

When Primmer won the Lotto Max through his office pool. he was doubly lucky: he had the means to open his dream restaurant, and a booming economy in which to do it. 

"Then, six months in, oil crashed, it was more than anyone had anticipated," he said. "Now the oil execs aren't coming to town anymore. People don't have as much money."

'The dining room’s flying, it’s pretty busy every night,' says Primmer. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Of all the decisions, both right and wrong, that he made over the years with the restaurant, he said the only one he'd revisit is the decision to open it in Newfoundland. And that's not for a lack of love for his home province.

"The government doesn't do anything to help you. There's much better support in a lot of different provinces," he said.

"I love Newfoundland as my home, but right now, there's no one really doing anything to make this place a better place. If no one above us is going to try … why put so much effort into it?"

'I'm pretty proud of it'

But even with the ups and downs in the economy and the inevitable mistakes and missteps, he said he'd do it all again if he was given the chance.

"Even if it [doesn't] work out in the long run, I still got more out of it than I would doing anything else," he said.

"I've kinda made a pretty cool restaurant having never worked in one, and I'm pretty proud of it."

Primmer opened the Fifth Ticket after winning nearly $4 million in the lottery. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

He's learned how to market well and how to manage labour and food costs, he said, and though he wishes he could bump them a bit, he's figured out how to keep food prices a bit lower than the other restaurants of Fifth Ticket calibre.

"The dining room's flying, it's pretty busy every night. We're still holding steady, we're still growing every month."

As for the piano bar, Primmer says both the space and the prospect of a sale have lots of promise. In fact, he's already had a few bites.

"It's hard to say what's going to happen," he said.

With files from Heather Barrett