10,000 square feet is a whole lot of restaurant to fill up with customers — that’s how big Shaughnessy Village newcomer Kampai Garden is. And PJ Goupil, the restaurant marketer and entrepreneur, who plays a part in other successes like Jatoba, Fitzroy and Mayfair, is definitely aware of it.
“I think it’s definitely riskier to go with a big space, the problem is that until it’s full it’s very hard to be warm and inviting.”
In terms of scale, Kampai is easily Goupil’s largest project, and the same for Patrick Hétu and Alexandre Besnard of restaurant and bar company A5 Hospitality, who approached Goupil to get involved a couple of years ago.
Kampai opened in November in a sprawling space within the old Faubourg Sainte-Catherine shopping centre, a much needed revitalization for the aging space. A few months on, it has scooped up two warm reviews for its cocktails and comfort-food-made-interesting. Lesley Chesterman may not have been the target demographic of what she called a “hip” spot, but the mix of ambiance and quality seems to hold solid appeal to more than just the under-25 crowd Goupil mentions — an unexpected bonus given its proximity to a young person hub like Concordia University.
“I would say [many customers are] 30 and up which is a great surprise because it’s more discerning, they’re very loyal, they behave better, they spend more.”
Opening a space like Kampai — and downtown, no less — is a daunting prospect for even experienced restaurateurs (top chef Antonio Park is also a co-owner), and even more so in a place like Montreal, widely considered as not a particularly moneyed city.
While some venues prefer to open quietly, easing into it and building up a customer base in the opening months, Goupil says Kampai needed to announce its presence in advance of day one.
“We swung as hard as we could and made as much noise as we could with the marketing, and swung as hard as we could with design, and really pressed hard with Antonio [Park] because to try to make the biggest boom possible because it is a big rent and a big investment.”
That wasn’t the only strategy Goupil employs with Kampai and his other projects — another key challenge was making the restaurant feel classy without heaping buckets of cash on it.
“We’re trying to swing for the fences with concepts that we see elsewhere. But maybe they’ve spent 10 or 15 million dollars on executing it, and they can because they’re New York,” Goupil points out to Eater. Kampai’s lush design and vibe was partly inspired by places like Soho House, a network of private clubs (slash bar/restaurants) for creatives in cities like New York and London, as well as the boutique Standard Hotels in Los Angeles and Miami — places considered swanky.
Goupil says the skills of Kampai’s designer, Amlyne Phillips, were key to getting that vibe when you don’t have millions to play with.
“You have to research into taking lesser materials that look very nice, or going with the trends of the moment. Kampai has a very nice mix of eclectic, with recycled furniture and antiques...we come out with a finish that comes out looking very upscale and high end without that cost...we do a lot of antique diving, it’s all Amlyne.”
Phillips’ help also extended to strategically designing Kampai so it wouldn’t feel too vast and empty at quieter times — a major issue for bars and clubs in the city
“We put so much time into splitting up the space into different atmospheres and using separators to divide it while keeping it open, putting a lot of plants, cluttering it up a little so there’s nooks and crannies where people feel intimate.”
With Kampai open and chugging along, Goupil’s attention is now on another opening — a reboot of defunct Plateau bar Rachel Rachel as a restaurant, a festive, baby version of downtown’s Jatoba, set to open this month.
Then for the summer, Goupil has one wish for the city.
“What I think would be really sick, and there hasn’t been one since Hotel de la Montagne, Montreal really needs a dope rooftop terrasse.”
Don’t get your hopes up, though — this is strictly Goupil’s dream project, and he definitely doesn’t have plans to make it happen.
“It needs to be downtown, or not too far, and it can’t be only 100-200 people, it would be really nice if it fitted 400 to 500 and had a great grill menu…if I could just open a venue for me and have millions of dollars, I would definitely do that.”
But if anybody is looking to open a rooftop bar to fit that bill — you know who to contact.