Local restaurant hopes to draw crowd downtown


St. Albertans could soon be sipping on some local suds next year, with the opening of Critical Mass Brewing in the Perron District.

The brewpub is expected to open its doors this week, and although it won’t immediately be serving any made-in-house draughts at least one fellow restaurateur is buzzing about its crowd-drawing potential.

“If that’s their vision, their end game and it comes through, that would be a fantastic addition to downtown,” said Tu Le of Jack’s Burger Shack and Cerdo Tacos and Tequila.

Le has been a long-time Perron Street proponent and believes that the brewpub could act as cornerstone for the budding restaurant district.

Owners Ron and Laura Massé certainly hope that is the case. The couple bought the former Blue Rare Steak and Bar location in hopes of creating a stronger downtown.

As craft beer connoisseurs they thought a microbrewery would be the perfect boon to a sometimes-sleepy city centre, which was losing a tenant in a prominent location.

“We saw this need on the corner downtown and we’re just happy to get involved,” said Ron MassĂ©, who has called St. Albert home for the past 13 years.

It’s a local solution to a local problem – a philosophy that is reflected by the brewery’s name.

Far from a simple play on the owners’ last name, Critical Mass Brewing derives from a business term coined in the ’70s to mean the point at which a company becomes self-sustaining. The brewpub is meant to be small, local and caring, which is why the MassĂ©s will stick to their respective careers (Ron is an IT specialist and Laura is an accountant) and rely on local talent to run the day-to-day operations.

“What we decided is that we’re going to hire people who are really good at what they do and put them in positions that allow them to succeed,” said MassĂ©.

Critical Mass is located on the corner of Perron and St. Anne streets. The brewpub will be more casual than its predecessor, serving mains in the $16 to $30 price range, which Massé hopes will be attractive to families and patrons of the Arden Theatre.

Massé is hoping to start brewing his own beer in 2018. He wants to ensure the viability of the restaurant before investing a further $750,000 in renovations to transform the back patio into a small brewery.

In the meantime, the restaurant will serve craft beers from other local Alberta breweries.

Domestic brewing has nearly doubled in the past five years according to industry association Beer Canada.

In Alberta the explosion happened even more recently. The province went from having 19 breweries in 2014 to 40 in the first half of 2016, and there are at least 10 additional breweries in the active planning stages, according to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission.

But the market is still “vastly underserved” says MassĂ©, who points to B.C.

Despite similarly sized populations, the neighbouring province sustains triple the amount of breweries. He believes there is at least the capacity for another 100 craft and microbreweries in Alberta.

The Edmonton region does have a number of breweries to draw upon – Alley Kat, Brewsters, Yellowhead and Situation Brewing are all based out of the downtown and Strathcona areas – but MassĂ© believes there’s an appetite for this type of establishment in St. Albert.

Renovations are expected to be complete this week. Massé hopes to open the doors on Feb. 6.

Critical Mass Brewing is located at 24 Perron St.


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Michelle Ferguson