Montreal-based Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is planning a national expansion of its fairly new brand.
“The idea was mine from many, many years ago – probably 30 years already I wanted to start a wing place. Not just any restaurant but an upscale chicken wing place,” said Schwartz.
“I finally had the good fortune of meeting George. I knew nothing about the restaurant business. Met George. He’s a unicorn in this business. Smart business man. He knows everything really there is to know about running a successful restaurant.”
The company has one location of about 3,200 square feet in Dollard-des-Ormeaux in the Montreal area.
“The concept is very simple. It’s an upscale, fun, vibrant, kind of gastro pub food in a setting that plays music videos on a big music video wall, mostly targeted towards 18-45 (years old). Really going after that market of young people looking for a place to have some entertainment and some great comfort food,” said Schwartz.
Massouras said Schwartz first approached him with the idea about three or four years ago.
“My first reaction was ‘really, chicken wings?’ I was not a big fan of chicken wings myself at the time. Now I am. We were just building the concept over a few years. We knew exactly what we wanted to specialize in. The concept itself we narrowed it down to an upscale, comfort food type of concept with a very fun atmosphere and I’m very happy we accomplished that,” he said.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 18 years old. I’m 44 years old now. I’ve owned and operated my own restaurants since 2003. I’ve always been involved with franchises. I wanted to build something that was my own and build our own brand. So I put 100 per cent of my effort in this new concept and I’ve been operating it since day one.”
Ben Labrecque, Managing Partner with Oakmont Real Estate Services Canada, which is spearheading the brand’s expansion plans, said the brand’s growth plans include a combination of company-owned and franchise restaurants with goals of 24 locations by 2027 within Quebec.
He said one of the biggest hurdles is that many people associate chicken wings to a grab and go or fast food environment and sports bars.
“But what’s unique about this concept and probably one of the only hurdles we’ll have in expanding this concept is educating the developers to the fact that this is not a sports bar and stop associating wings directly to fast food and or sports. Once they come in and see the concept and try the food, they realize quickly that it’s an elevated chicken wing complemented by a host of other great items on the menu,” said Labrecque.
“It’s really an experience and the food is quite elevated. Once we can get them to experience it, and taste it and live it, the concept sells itself.”
He said the brand is looking for locations of between 4,000 to 5,000 square feet.
“We think we’ve got a lot of expansion in Quebec still,” said Schwartz. “But we’d love to take the concept West and even East. Our problem is we kind of get tossed in the fray of ‘oh there’s a wing place’. But it’s far from a wing place.”
Schwartz said the current Birdhouse location in Montreal has about 65 to 70 per cent of its clients who are women.
“Surprising for sure. But I think it talks to the fun vibe of the place and the fact that it’s not a sports bar and the fact we have vegan options and vegetarian options and so on,” he said.
Montreal has not been known for its chicken wings in establishments like other parts of the country where sports bars, in particular, have a special wing night every week.
“For some reason, there’s been no real wing places in Montreal,” said Schwartz. “We don’t have the franchises that the rest of Canada has . . . I’ve always been a wing fan. Literally when I was 20 that would have been in 1987 I sent by regular postal service a letter to the guys at Hooters to try and open up one in Montreal. I think they said ‘where the hell is Canada and where the hell is Quebec?’
“So that didn’t go anywhere. But I wanted to do it since then. And I kept saying ‘someone’s going to open a wing place’ and no one ever did. Everyone has wings as an appetizer but no one actually did anything focused on wings. There’s burgers, tacos, pizza and so on. We didn’t want to do a quick service restaurant. This is a full sit down place with a high attention to service and the vibe and the atmosphere.”