Economic slump, competition challenging downtown Saskatoon restaurateurs

Saskatoon's has a vibrant food scene, but on special for restaurateurs in the downtown these days is a heaping bowl of angst.

'I know it is tough sledding out there': Crazy Cactus owner

Canada's Top Chef and restaurateur Dale Mackay is very involved in Saskatoon's downtown restaurant scene. (Rachel Bergen/CBC News)

Saskatoon has a vibrant food scene, but on special for restaurateurs in the downtown these days is a heaping bowl of angst.

The issue is finding voice and customer attachment.- Kent Smith-Windsor, Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce

"I know it is tough sledding out there," said Bo Clegg, co-owner of the Crazy Cactus. "I am friends with some other restaurateurs downtown and they tell me how hard it is."

The Crazy Cactus is booming, but it is new to the downtown, having recently moved.

"When one [restaurant] pops up, the other ones feel the hit," said Clegg.

Patrons of the Crazy Cactus have shared their memories on this photo wall over the years. The restaurant already had a strong customer base when it decided to move downtown recently. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Hot market cools

The restaurant business is traditionally a tough one. Now, on the downside of a 10-year economic boom, the uncertainty is leaving many owners in Saskatoon with a bad taste in their mouth.

Kent Smith-Windsor, executive director of the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, thinks the economy is due for a rebound. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

"The market is noisy and to say that an individual can make perfect planning around that is pretty heroic," said Kent Smith-Windsor with the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce.

"The really good ones have a good understanding of what their daily cash flow break-even is, and that's really where the angst comes, because in the February and March period you can be pretty vulnerable."

What's on the menu downtown?

There's more to this than just the ups and downs of the economy, and on that Clegg and Smith-Windsor agree. Restaurants downtown must carve out their own identity.

"The issue is finding voice and customer attachment," said Smith-Windsor.

Clegg added that once that starts happening "we'll start to get a name for downtown being the place to go and enjoy nightlife."

Optimism is a tasty dish 

Smith-Windsor said these days of restaurateur angst may be numbered. He believes the city's economy is on the upswing.

That said, he has some sobering advice for entrepreneurs anxious to jump into downtown's restaurant market.

It begins, he said, with a question: "How do you feel about 85 hours a week of work?" 

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning