© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Construction has begun on a new Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse Casual along the south side of 15th Street East. The restaurant is expected to open in late summer or early fall.
A growing chain of casual dining restaurants is about to raise the “steaks” for customers in Prince Albert.
Construction has begun on a new Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse Casual location in the Cornerstone Shopping Centre expansion along 15th Street East, offering local consumers a new option for meals and drinks.
“The easiest way I can describe it (is) … it’s like a Keg, but more casual dining,” co-owner Dave Nussbaumer said. “You can wear your jeans there. It’s not snooty … You can walk in there and the décor’s very nice.”
Affordable prices, he added, are a key element of the restaurant’s appeal.
“You can’t afford to go to certain restaurants too often,” Nussbaumer said. “This is a family-type restaurant on one side and then a lounge -- or an ‘urban lodge,’ they call it -- on the other side.”
While not a sports bar, the urban lodge section of the establishment is designed more for drinking, with a slightly louder atmosphere.
The new Mr. Mike’s is expected to open in Prince Albert by late summer or early fall, with Nussbaumer suggesting August or September as potential opening dates.
RAMMP Hospitality Brands, which acquired ownership of the Mr. Mike’s chain in 2010, is currently pushing to expand the restaurant in cities across Western Canada including Prince Albert.
“We call it ‘affordable indulgence,’” RAMMP co-owner and chief financial officer Robin Chakrabarti said. “So it focuses on high-end steaks, but it also has the world-famous Mike burger … That combined with beers and Caesars and the rest of the menu mix fit really well in growing Western Canada and matches well with the demographic that we’re going after.”
Aside from its signature steaks and burgers, the Mr. Mike’s menu also offers a range of seafood, salads and desserts.
Chakrabarti described the atmosphere and concept of the restaurant as built around irreverence and a relaxed atmosphere.
“There’s a sense of humour to everything that we do,” he said. “There’s a level of energy and there’s a level of being very comfortable in who you are and coming as you are, not trying to be pretentious, avoiding the whole white tablecloths sort of style that some of our competitors use.
“We’re a casual concept and that’s reflected in our name, which is Steakhouse Casual. So it’s come as you are, have a great time, have fun and have some great food.”
Brothers Bob and Nick Constabaris founded the first Mr. Mike’s in Vancouver in 1960.
The initial idea of the restaurant, under which it expanded to 90 locations during its late ’70s and early ’80s peak, was far removed from its current incarnation.
“Their original concept was essentially a salad bar with a $2 steak on a tray, which was hugely successful in its time,” Chakrabarti said.
“But like any business and any brand -- anything to do with customer experience -- you have to continually innovate and stay current and actually get ahead of the trends a little bit and match what your consumers want.”
Following a decline that saw the chain pass through various owners, RAMMP was determined to re-invent Mr. Mike’s when it took over the brand four years ago.
“We actually jokingly internally called it ‘Back to the Future’ in (the) way that we had to get back to the customer base, which was a casual customer base,” Chakrabarti said.
We’re a casual concept and that’s reflected in our name. Robin Chakrabarti
The company began expanding its Mr. Mike’s locations throughout Western Canada, opening five new restaurants in 2013.
One of them was the Yorkton restaurant that Nussbaumer opened with fellow franchisees just over a year ago.
An insurance broker by trade who owns the firm Farrell Agencies, Nussbaumer hatched the idea of breaking into the restaurant business with co-owner Mark Butchko after a 2010 flood in Yorkton devastated the Dairy Queen then owned by the latter.
“It was a total loss from the flood,” Nussbaumer recalled. “At that point he was just a client of mine, and over the course of the next few months of going back and forth on his total loss claim, he says, ‘We should go into business together,’ and that is how the story started.”
Deciding that there was an opening in the Yorkton market for a casual dining restaurant, the pair went online looking at different franchises such as Applebee’s, Montana’s, The Keg, Moxie’s and Rockwell’s.
It was a representative of RAMMP who suggested the latter, which Nussbaumer rejected as too pricy for the Yorkton market.
“My exact quote was, ‘We want a Boston Pizza-type restaurant, a family-type restaurant, but … with a more meat and potatoes menu’ … He point-blank just blurted out, ‘Mr. Mike’s. We have this franchise, we just picked it up and we’re just starting to rebuild it and rebrand it,’ and I started laughing at him -- literally laughing.”
Originally from the West Coast, Nussbaumer was only familiar with the old Mr. Mike’s format, having last visited the chain 30 or 40 years ago.
But when the RAMMP representative noted that his company was attempting to revamp the chain, Nussbaumer’s curiosity ultimately got the better of him, leading to a partnership and the opening of the Yorkton restaurant last year.
Following the success of that venture, Nussbaumer and his business partners began looking to expand, scoping out different locations throughout Saskatchewan.
Aside from Saskatoon and Regina, the next location for a new Mr. Mike’s restaurant ultimately came down to two possible choices.
“We were toying between Moose Jaw and Prince Albert and made a couple of trips to both communities,” Nussbaumer said.
“I know Prince Albert. I drive through it, I’ve been there a few times. I just kept saying -- a big trading area, lots of steady income, I think the pulp and paper industry will continue or will start to boom again at some point.
“You’re the gateway to the north up there, lots of things going on in the mining and exploration business … whereas Moose Jaw was a bit more of a laidback community, and we thought, ‘Let’s do it in Prince Albert.’
“We’re very excited about Prince Albert,” he added.
Chakrabarti shared that excitement, noting the previous success of Nussbaumer’s franchisee group in their Yorkton location.
“We’re hoping to replicate that success in your market,” he said, adding that they were “very excited to be in Prince Albert and getting to know everyone in that town.”