Sarnia-Lambton restaurant scene booming

Cathy Dobson – The Sarnia Journal, April 2, 2019

The local restaurant industry is experiencing a flurry of moves and expansions this spring.

Just a year ago Burger Rebellion began serving upscale pub fare at the Refined Fool brewery on London Road. Now, says owner Chris Lewis, those burgers will soon be available at two more locations, one in downtown Sarnia, the other in Corunna.

“It’s part of my job to grow the company,” Lewis said. “We knew we wanted to stay in Lambton County and began looking for space that would be good for us.”

When the Corunna Restaurant at 391 Lyndoch St. closed in February, Burger Rebellion found its next location. George and Helene Tsaprailis had operated a successful business there for 46 years before retiring, proving the location works with the right product and work ethic.

Lewis oversees day-to-day operations for Burger Rebellion, with partners Nathan Colquhoun, Dan Slade, Robb Armstrong and Chad Ouellette.

The five local men started the business in a seasonal food truck parked at Front and Davis streets. None has a food and beverage background – Lewis has a religious studies degree and a Masters in international development – but diners responded to their everything-fresh-and-made-from-scratch approach.

“At London Road, we’ve figured out what we didn’t know and ironed out the kinks,” said Lewis. “We learned a lot of lessons this year about staffing numbers, inventory control and making sure you have enough food prepped.”

When the Corunna location opens, likely in late April, the brand will have its first stand-alone restaurant with some significant menu tweaks.

For instance, the Corunna Burger Rebellion will serve breakfast, offer a banquet hall for 40, and sell conventional beer brands in addition to Refined Fool craft beer. The core menu of burgers and fries will be augmented with salads and nachos.

The restaurant is getting a facelift with fresh paint, modern fixtures, lots of shiny steel and new flooring. It will have seating for 120 people and employ about 15.

Shortly after, in early May, Lewis expects Burger Rebellion’s third location to open. It will occupy the former Republik Eatery at 211 Christina Street N. The building fronts both Christina and Front streets with a kitchen in the centre and a patio on Christina.

The downtown Burger Rebellion will open up simultaneously with the new location for Café Mexico, another restaurant Lewis owns with Colquhoun, Slade and other investors.

Café Mexico opened at 410 Front St., across from Centennial Park, in November of 2017. It’s doing well, says Colquhoun, but the partners feel it’s just outside what most Sarnians consider the downtown.

“We need to be closer to downtown and all that’s happening there,” he said. “Business was great in the summer but slowed a little in winter.”

Mexico will share the former Republik building with Burger Rebellion but face Front Street.  The two establishments will share one kitchen but have distinctly different styles, separate dining rooms and bars.

Mexico’s offerings will expand, said Colquhoun.

“We’ve been restricted by the size of our kitchen and bar at our current location and want to have a bigger cocktail, drink and food menu.”

Meanwhile, Indian fare joined the downtown’s restaurant options a month ago.

Sitara Indian Cuisine, which has operated at 1308 London Rd. the past seven years, now has a second location called Sitara Downtown, at 138 Cromwell St.

Owner Manjit Singh says he has seating for 20 as well as a busy takeout service, that’s ready in five to 10 minutes and caters to the office crowd.

Sitara Downtown is open 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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