When Philip Starkman, agent for Ben Starkman Realty, went to cash December’s rent cheque from Critical Mass Brewing he claims the payment bounced. Confused, he went to the restaurant to find out what happened.
Upon arrival Starkman found the establishment empty. The owner had left, closing the restaurant for good.
“I have to find out what’s going on,” he said. “I’m sure it’s a sad thing, no one likes to close their doors.”
The company he works for owns the property that Saviour’s Café, Cranky’s Bike Shop and now-defunct Critical Mass Brewing rent.
While he doesn’t know what caused the establishment to close, Starkman said he’s sympathetic to the owner. He blames the community not supporting the restaurant as a possible reason for closure.
“I feel bad more so that a local independent operator has to close its doors because of the lack of community support. This is more so the rule than the exception in St. Albert, it’s sad but true,” he said.
He said his lawyers are now searching for the owner to sort out the last month’s rent. He said nowhere in the contract are lessors required to give notice before they leave.
Nonetheless, the situation was confusing for Starkman. With high hopes that the establishment would bring in more foot traffic, he said the brewpub seemed to be successful and had plans to expand.
The owner did not respond to the Gazette. Critical Mass Brewing celebrated its grand opening in February and had hoped to start brewing its own beer in 2018, the Gazette previously reported.
Solomon Debesay, owner of Saviour’s Café and Bistro, said he was upset when he found out his neighbouring restaurant closed.
“I believe in family. If I grow, I need everyone to grow together,” he said, speaking of the other businesses in the Perron District. “It’s like a body, if my head only grows, I’m not normal. I wished them to be so successful.”
The café opened only a few months earlier than Critical Mass Brewing, making the closure more sentimental for Debesay. Being a restaurant in the same area, he’s no stranger to the hardships of running a business.
“I saw so many employees, I was asking myself ‘how can these guys be so successful?’ Because for me, it was extremely tough to have even one employee full time.”
Chris Oral, owner of DJ’s Lounge on Perron Street said it’s always sad to see another business close.
“It was shocking in the beginning,” he said. “It’s sad to see them go. Competition is very very healthy, it’s good for businesses to have competition in a close vicinity.”
Two months ago Critical Mass Brewing hired a new manager, but prior to that DJ’s Lounge and the brewpub had a close working relationship. Staff from both establishments often ate at each other’s businesses and caught up on life.
He said now that the business is closed he’s going to miss visiting with the employees at Critical Mass Brewing.
Jennifer McCurdy, president of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, said it’s hard for any business when at the point of having to close.
“It’s heartbreaking in many respects,” she said. “I’m sure it’s never an easy decision for a business, no matter how long they’ve been open for, to take that final step. They’ve got staff that are going to lose their jobs, they’ve got suppliers that are going to lose customers, they’ve got customers that are no longer going to be a part of their family.”
Online residents have posted mixed reviews about the establishment closing down.
“We were just there on Friday night. Best burgers I have found around,” wrote Carol McCaffery on the public Facebook page, The Community of St. Albert.
Another poster blamed lack of community support as a reason.
“I went there for supper with hubby a couple months ago and we were literally the only ones there (at like 530). We as a community really should support local restaurants better,” posted Candice Thew on the Facebook page.
Others said Critical Mass Brewing charged too much for food and said the menu wasn’t their forte. The post was published on Dec. 19 and has since garnered more than 220 comments about the closure.