Former owners David Loan will continue as employee, while original chef and co-founder Caroline Ishii returns on consulting basis
Jul 17 14 – 10:20 AM — Updates to 11 AM — Ottawa’s widely acclaimed vegan restaurant, ZenKitchen at 634 Somerset St. W., is reopening for dinner service July 31 after assets were purchased for an undisclosed amount by high-tech investor Michaël Gazier. Plans are to expand into lunch and brunch service “a few weeks later” as the restaurant reorganizes.
“I’m at the point now where I need to get the word out,” says former owner and co-founder David Loan, who was forced to suddenly close in late May after Canada Revenue Agency seized the restaurant bank account for non-payment of taxes. The extent of taxes owing has not been disclosed, nor has debts to former employees and suppliers been revealed.
“This has come about mainly because we had an investor step forward who wanted to help out,” Loan says, “and we’ve been able to make arrangements with Canada Revenue Agency that I’m not allowed to disclose.”
Loan says “some” of the taxes owing have been paid — notably $6,000 raised through an online fundraising campaign, plus $7,000 earned at a special fundraising dinner held after the restaurant closed. “Arrangements have been made,” Loan says.
“While I continue to run the restaurant, I’m no longer the owner. The investor, Michaël Gazier, is owner of the new business enterprise. He’s a long-time ZenKitchen customer and friend who’s been coming to dinner for quite a while. While the new owner is not a restaurateur, he has been very fond of ZenKitchen and will oversee the finances and ensure we keep to what we need to be doing while leaving me with creative freedom to run the place,” Loan says.
“We’re going back to our roots. Our kitchen staff has entirely moved on, including former chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx and the cooks who worked under him. It’s been two months since closing and everyone has found other jobs.
“We have a couple of former line cooks coming back — Dat Tran and David Irish — and we’re hiring new ones. Caroline Ishii will be consulting to develop the menu and assist with training, but not as chef.
“We’re not actually going to name anyone as chef at this time. The menu will start with our customer favourites — lots of dishes from the past like our popular Zen tapas plate, our Thai-style curry, and our black bean cakes and caesar salad appetizers,” Loan says.
As for paying suppliers and wages owed to former employees, Loan says: “We don’t know we can pay everybody everything, but we’re working to repay staff and vendors as much as we can.
“This is a new company with a new owner who bought the assets.”
While he’s disappointed to lose ownership, Loan says he is more happy that ZenKitchen will carry on. “Ownership isn’t as important to me as it is to keep the place running.
“I’m relieved we’re reopening and we will be able to continue. And the new owner wants to invest to improve the place — something we didn’t have the money to do. I’m thrilled this is happening.”
Gazier describes himself as a high-tech engineer currently employed by network specialist Ciena in the strategic planning office exploring new business opportunities. Ciena is a leading global telecommunications equipment provider. He has been a vegan for more than 10 years, and stresses his investment is a personal venture. While Gazier says his investment is “considerable,” no details were given.
“We’re not reinventing wheels here,” Gazier says. “The menu will remain as vegan food that people can relate to.
“Think of it as entirely a new business. David has been hired to continue to run the house and help organize the kitchen, while Caroline has been hired as a consultant developing the menu and training kitchen staff with David.
“Dave is the front guy for me who is running the show,” Gazier says. “The restaurant is all about local, organic, ethics and community. We’ll be continuing the vision of making a great place in Ottawa with great food, ethics and community …”
ZenKitchen has received critical acclaim since the day it was opened on Canada Day in 2009 by Loan and his then partner, Ishii. In fact, the trials and tribulations of opening a fine dining vegan establishment inspired a 13-part television series in 2010 called The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave. (Ishii left the restaurant in April 2013.)
“I went in to see if I could lend David a hand and ended up as owner,” Gazier says.
“It’s been an adventure for both of us.”
Reservations can be made through the Zen Kitchen website at www.zenkitchen.ca