Hermanos restaurant in Winnipeg to close, but owners are joining the COVID-19 fight

By | May 22, 2020

A popular steak house in Winnipeg’s Exchange District is closing down at the end of the month due to the COVID-19 pandemic — but its owners say they’ll quickly transition to a new industry.

Hermanos Restaurant and Wine Bar founders Noel Bernier and Najara Barros announced Friday that they will be closing the restaurant permanently because of the pandemic and “the uncertainty of the downtown entertainment industry.”

“Hermanos was designed and intended to bring people together, to bring them closer, and to create memories as friends, families, and couples,” the two wrote in a letter addressed to customers and people living in the Exchange.

“We simply do not know how to make that same feeling happen in an environment of [physical] distancing,” they wrote.

“We know the life of our restaurant is so heavily reliant on downtown entertainment.… Without any discussion or pathway in the future to have these events return, there is no viability to stay open.”

The owners said the closure did not stem from any dispute with their landlords, who they said “have been tremendously supportive and willing to work with us on all fronts during these unprecedented times.”

But they said problems actually began before the pandemic.

“Our business was severely hurt by the construction and redevelopment of streets in 2018,” they wrote.

However, Bernier and Barros will not be leaving the area. The two say they plan to launch a new business called Exchange PPE, which aims to procure the personal protective equipment needed by businesses as they reopen, and for Indigenous communities.

Though Hermanos is closed, a new PPE procurement company will set up shop in the same area. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The restaurateurs say they’ll do that with help from Josh Giesbrecht, a member of Roseau River First Nation in southern Manitoba and the co-ordinator of the cannabis project at Red River College.

“Our Indigenous division will be a rapid response company, focused on meeting the logistical and PPE needs of managing this health crisis,” Giesbrecht, who will be company president, said in a media release.

“We are going to move fast and be flexible, to help as many communities as possible prepare their PPE needs before a second wave” of COVID-19 cases.

Eventually, the company would like to be able to expand into offering masks for the general public, Bernier said in the release.

Barros said Exchange PPE will look to sell ventilators internationally as well.

“We are already in discussions with state governments in Brazil for the sale of ventilators,” said Barros, who is originally from Brazil.

“It’s very tragic what is happening in my home country with COVID-19, and it feels very positive to be a part of the solution.”

Stella’s in Osborne Village closes

Meanwhile, Stella’s Café & Bakery also announced a closure Friday, saying it will be shut down its location in Osborne Village. It cited declining sales and foot traffic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This location was the first to open and will always hold a special place in our hearts and history,” the company, which operates six other restaurants in Winnipeg, said in a Facebook post.

The original Stella’s Café & Bakery location in Osborne Village is closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“We want to thank all our staff and all Winnipeggers for being so loyal to this location. We look forward to serving you in one of our other Stella’s restaurants soon.”

The Osborne location has 13 employees, who were notified of the closure and will be given priority if and when employment opportunities arise at other Stella’s locations, the Facebook post said.

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