Jan. 19, 2011 - Issue #796 : Canoe Festival
Good second act
The Next Act's new owners were in need of change
Having moved through the ranks from dishwashing to supervising over 100 staff as general manager at Fuller Family Restaurants (Joey's / Earl's), he had learned the business from the ground up and had taken on the many challenges that came with supervising a staff, building a brand and helping with an ambitious expansion of the business into the United States.
Something was missing though. Some deep sense of purpose forced him to realize that one day he would need to run his own restaurant. It had been the subject of conversation for many years between him and childhood friend Nathan McLaughlin, who as a Red Seal and Executive Chef was responsible for cooking at camps of 800 – 1000 oilfield workers.
McLaughlin also wanted something more fulfilling, but until earlier this year, those conversations about opening their own restaurant had just been thoughts spoken out loud. Determined to make this dream a reality, Rebalkin gave his notice, sold his condo in Vancouver and moved back to Edmonton to set up shop.
Through family connections, they learned that the Next Act pub, located on Calgary Trail, just off Whyte Avenue, might be available. Moving quickly, they recruited the services of longtime mutual friend Saylish Haas, an accomplished retail manager and the financial whiz of the trio, to join them in the venture. Within six months they found themselves the owners of a restaurant.
"It almost didn't happen," starts Rebalkin. "Two hours before we were going to complete the transfer of the business, we got a call from the bank saying there was a problem with the building appraisal. There were a lot of phone calls to lawyers and bankers in the next couple hours, but we got it figured out with literally five minutes to spare."
It has been a whirlwind experience ever since. From that point came the revamping of the menu under McLaughlin's supervision and a renovation of the pub's interior, which had remained largely unchanged since its transformation 25 years ago from the Strathcona Coffee Factory to the original incarnation of the Next Act. The result was a trendy, hipster dining and drinking joint, where patrons gather after an evening in the theatre district in a unique setting. The bar has ditched the sports highlights in favour of replays of classic black-and-white cinema on the television screens. The music draws from an eclectic library, loud enough to be enjoyed and heard over the din of other patrons carrying on conversation, but not so loud to drown out your own words or those of your friends.
"We have really great support from our customers, including actors, directors, producers, plus we get a lot of traffic from the neighborhood. Our customer base is very diverse and we attract a really interesting crowd ranging from their 20s to 60s," adds Rebalkin.
"Our intention is to keep everything simple, but deliver great food, a good drinks list and fair prices. We're a food-first pub. That's our focus."
Since re-opening in August, the owners "have been married to the job," in Rebalkin's words, putting in 12 – 16 hour days. McLauglin runs the management of the kitchen, Rebalkin the day-to-day, HR and marketing roles and Haas the finances, but the hats they each wear on any given day can vary.
"We're learning how to run a business for ourselves and at first it was really tough," Rebalkin says, "but it's changing every day for the better and we have a lot of experience as a team that we can draw from, which is helpful."
As for the future, the partners see their ambition as their greatest strength.
"We want to create something special for Edmonton and offer a unique experience to our customers," he explains.
Asked if they're having fun, Rebalkin smiles. "It's like thinking out loud." V
Mike Rebalkin, Nathan McLaughlin, Saylish Haas
The Next Act
8224 - 104 St, 780.433.9345
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