Jason Evaristo (The Handsome Daughter)

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David Noël: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in our wonderful province. I’m David Noël.

A lot of the people I interview for this show are seasoned vets, often near the top of pretty substantial organizations. And I’m happy about that, because we can learn a lot from people with that level of experience. However, I’m equally interested in hearing from business leaders “working in the trenches”, so-to-speak. There’s a lot to learn from entrepreneurs who are involved with the ground-level aspects of their business on a daily basis. Today’s guest is like that.

Before we get started, I’d like to repeat my usual quick reminder: if you enjoy this episode, please tell someone about the show. Our website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com

Without further ado, here is Jason Evaristo:

[to Jason] All right, well Jay, thanks a lot for taking the time.

Jason Evaristo: No problem.

David: So, how about we start by having you tell us who you are and what you do.

Jason: My name is Jason Evaristo. I am one of the co-owners/manager/bartenders here at The Handsome Daughter.

David: And The Handsome Daughter is a bar?

Jason: It is a bar, restaurant, live music venue, kind of, skirting the fence, sitting on the line of a lot of, a couple of different things. But yeah.

David: Cool. What’s your background? How did you get into owning a bar?

Jason: I don’t really know. I started…I have a pretty, I guess you would say, a diverse background, meaning I’ve had many, many different jobs before. But I started bartending just part time when I was in university. And kind of got more and more into it throughout my university career and afterwards…

David: What did you do in school?

Jason: I was in Business at U of W.

David: Oh, interesting. I never knew that.

Jason: Yeah, I was there. I think I started bartending, oh maybe my second year, just part time in the evenings, and things kind of spiraled out of control from there.

David: And so, you were…where did you work as a bartender?

Jason: I started off working at the Army Navy Air Force club, Club 60 on River. And yeah, kind of started off working very casual, part time, and then slowly kind of got more involved in the place, and started doing a lot of the booking of bands and stuff, and kind of running, well not really running the place, but unofficially being the face of the organization, and, yeah.

David: All right. And then, it’s kind of a big jump to go and do, decide to do your own thing. What was, I guess a couple of questions around that, but first of all, what was the motivation. Why did you wanna own your own bar?

Jason: I’ve always wanted to own my own business. It just so happened to be that it ended up being a bar. While I was actually still working at the Legion, I opened up another business a few years back, oh, god, this is going back, jeez, I don’t even know, five or six years now. I opened a gym while I was still working at the Legion. Well, it’s called the Legion, but it’s not actually the Legion. I’m sure…anyone who is familiar with the…

David: Well you know that I’m well aware…

Jason: Yeah, yeah, you would be. I think I saw you there once or twice…

David: Yeah, I may have been there once or twice.

Jason: Yeah, so, yeah, while I was still working at the Legion, I opened up a gym, and then after I got out of that I continued working in the Legion for a couple more years, and just trying to get my bearings and figure out what I wanted to do next, and it just seemed natural, I really like working in a bar. I think I know a little bit about it at this point, comfortable with it. I like working with people, I like working with the public, and yeah, I just kind of seemed like a…it was definitely a big jump, going from, like I only a few years’ experience working pretty much part time, and not the biggest bar and not the most popular bar in the city or anything like that by any means. So I definitely don’t have nearly as much experience as a lot of other people out there. I’ve never really worked in any fine dining restaurants or anything like that. Pretty much just slingin’ whiskey and cracking standards and cracking jokes at the Legion and, yeah, that’s…

David: Yeah. Dealing with a bunch of rowdies.

Jason: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s definitely no shortage of that around there, that’s for sure.

David: Yeah, yeah. Interesting. So I actually have a lot of questions about the operational aspect of opening a bar. But before I get to that, I had no idea about this gym business, I want to hear more about that. What was that all about?

Jason: Well it came about a…a guy I knew, a friend of mine from years ago had moved to Toronto, and we were always big into working out. Not so much anymore, as you can tell by looking at me. It’s a good thing this is radio event.

David: Jason is a very handsome man.

Jason: Oh, you. Yeah, no, it was just, same deal. It was just something that we really liked doing and we always, you know, both of us wanted to always be our own boss and own our own business, and he was thinking of moving back from Toronto, and we were talking, and he was like, “Yeah, if I move back, you wanna do this?” I’m like, “Yeah, let’s do it,” and we had no idea what we were doing, and fumbled our way through it, and it was a real big learning experience.

David: No kidding.

Jason: Yeah, we managed to get the doors open, and yeah, he’s still operating to this day. So it’s a…

David: Oh really?

Jason: Yeah, yeah, so he’s been up and running for a couple years now.

David: What gym is that?

Jason: It’s called Undefeated CrossFit.

David: Okay, cool.

Jason: So yeah, after I got out of that, yeah, I just took a year or two to figure out what I wanted my next move to do, and I was still in school at the time, too. So there was a lot of time management, and failing at time management.

David: What were the lessons from the gym?

Jason: Oh God, there were plenty. Just knowing where to begin. You know, when you have an idea to start a business, it’s not like…there are resources available, that I find out about, people find out about after the fact, but for the most part, it’s not like…you know, you wanna go and be a mechanic. You’re going to go to Red River, and they’re gonna put you through your courses and you’re going to have a job placement program at the end of it. Or you’re gonna be, go be a lawyer or a doctor, or whatever. You just say, “Oh, I’m going to business school and I wanna open a business” it’s a kind of a pretty big blanket statement, and…

David: Yep. There’s lots of little things to figure out.

Jason: There’s lots of little things, and finding the starting point is like, you know, who knows what’s the first thing to do, right, like what do you do? So yeah, just learning to navigate the sort of intricacies of the Winnipeg business environment and the sea of bureaucracy and red tape and even just everything, going from knowing how to deal with contractors and suppliers and who to call when you need this. Now it’s like we got a guy for everything. Like I got a guy for…I got a guy for everything, and I know which city office I’m gonna be spending my afternoon sitting in the waiting room. But when you’re first getting going, it’s, there’s really, you’re own your own, pretty much.

David: Yep, yep. Did you ever consider opening a bar gym combo? I feel like that would do really well.

Jason: Like off of Trailer Park Boys?

David: Well, I’m thinking even here now with the Daughter, you can have like a Sunday morning yoga or something like that.

Jason: You know what, actually, this back space used to be an aerobic studio back in the ’80s. Yeah, a couple months back, a lady came in, and she was like “I actually just moved back to the neighborhood” and she used to own an aerobic studio back here. So she, I just gave her a look around and she said, “It’s changed so much.” but it makes sense, right. It’s a big open area. And there was actually a, at one point in time, there was a taekwondo dojo here as well.

So in the basement, there’s this one room and it used to just be the change room I guess, so there’s all these showers everywhere. And there’s all this, I’m not sure if it’s Japanese kanji writing carved into the wall, into the beams and stuff, yeah. Yeah, this place has seen a lot of…there’s a shoe cobbler, it was once a garage too. It was a pool hall, was a bakery at one time I think too. Yeah that’s, the old girl’s seen some things.

David: No kidding. So speaking of this space, it’s this Handsome Daughter now, before you owned it, it’s been a bar now for a couple iterations. I can’t actually say this for sure, because I don’t know. But it seems to me that you guys are doing better than several of the previous iterations. And I guess what I would ask you…well, first of all, do you agree with that, and if so, what do you think are…why do you think you’ve been able to do that?

Jason: I can’t really say we’re doing better or we’re worse than anyone else, because I don’t really know any…

David: It’s not like they publish their numbers or anything.

Jason: Yeah, and I mean like really, what is “better,” right, like better can mean many different things…

David: Well put this way, I come here reasonably often…

Jason: Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone how often you’re here…

David: …and I’m kind of trying to decide what to admit to the listeners…you know, I’ve spent some time in your fine establishment…

Jason: Yeah, you’ve put in some hours, you’ve put in some hours.

David: …and it happens pretty often that I’ll show up here on a weeknight, and the place is pretty busy. Which is impressive for a little bar that’s kind of like in not the hottest neighborhood in Winnipeg, but it’s kind of an up and coming neighborhood for sure, but it’s not anything super crazy.

Jason: It doesn’t have that…it’s not quite up to the point where it has that vibe like where you’re going down Corydon…

David: Exactly.

Jason: … where there’s just a ton of people everywhere, and a ton of spots, but that’s our…yeah, I mean we’re definitely getting there. We’re getting more well established. It’s definitely been an uphill battle from the get go, just because this place had such a stigma associated with it. It wasn’t exactly known as a place you’d go out for, you know, bring your date for dinner, or it was…and you know it didn’t just have that sort of vibe to it before, but it’s, slowly but surely we’re gaining traction and getting that kind of early after work, early evening dinner crowd, just like a casual hang out spot. And then, yeah, it’s getting there. But it definitely, whether or not we’re doing better or worse than anyone else, I can’t really say. I…people tell me that we’re doing good, which is a very nice thing.

David: Well I guess another way to put it is that I feel like you guys are kind of part of something that’s happening in the neighborhood in general.

Jason: Absolutely. And I think that might be the big difference that people notice, is because we are so, we’re very involved in this neighborhood, we’re very involved in the local music and art scene. We are doing events seven days a week, like pretty much. And I think that’s the big difference between maybe us and the previous iterations of the place and we’re also operating in a, it’s a different time now, and we’re operating in a different environment, and yeah, we’re just trying to stay relevant and be a driving force in the neighborhood, to be part of the neighborhood, to be part of the local culture, and not just exist outside of that, if that makes sense.

David: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.

Jason: We do a lot to try and bring in different groups of people, which is the hard part, sometimes…well, not really hard part, getting groups of people in here at once is easy. Getting them to come back, that’s the trick, really, so I’d say if there’s anything one difference, the one main difference between us and the previous owners/operators in that, and that’s probably it, and also just like the format that we’re doing. You know, like with the front, the renovations we did, and adding the second bar in the front. Turning that more into a lounge type area. That’s made a huge difference, too, so.

David: Yeah, it is pretty cool. For listeners who haven’t been here, it’s basically the kind of a front area where you can sit down, have some food, have some drinks, and it’s generally quieter. And then there’s the back area where there might be bands, and there might a trivia event or whatever else going on.

Jason: Yeah, we have the trivia events, yes we do a lot of that.

David: Yeah, which seems to be working well. Jumping back a little bit to when you first opened up, what were the operational challenges there. I think that’s one of the interesting questions that I have is all the groundwork that’s required in actually opening up a spot.

Jason: Yeah, there’s a lot more to it than most people realize. Just to get the doors open is a, it was a huge struggle for us, because we basically did everything ourselves. Like all the work we’ve done in the building with a budget of essentially zero dollar. Yeah, so it took, there was a lot of operational challenges, a lot of stuff to do with permits, stuff with the city. We actually had the spot for, I think around…let’s see, I got the keys to the place in February, I think, and we didn’t open up til October.

David: Wow, and that’s bearing in mind that the previous operation was a bar. So you would think that it wasn’t even that much to change.

Jason: Yeah, you would think so. I knew it was gonna be a challenge, and it was gonna…I, initially I think I made a timeline on myself for like three months or four months, which looking back now is absolutely laughable, because we were barely, barely scratched the surface after three, four months. And then a lot of it was physical stuff with the building, like when we did, when I say we did all of the work, we did everything ourselves. And I’m by no means a general contractor. I have a lot of very helpful, very good friends who did a lot of work for beer or less.

And you know, helped me out, slugged it out there with me day in and day out for no pay. And yeah, without them, there’s no way we’d be sitting here right now. Because I can only imagine the amount of money that I would have had to have dumped into the place if I were to be paying professionals to do it. But yeah, there was a lot of…aside from the physical aspect of this, of the space…

David: Just to jump in there, I feel like that actually is kind of an aspect of what makes this place work, is that it’s kind of been a community project from the get go.

Jason: Yeah, you know what it kind of has, and it’s, that’s, yeah, it’s a very good way of putting it, because there are so many people involved in actually, helping out, whether, whatever their role was, however much they were involved. A lot of hands went into this place and getting the doors open, and I think a lot of people, that’s, it’s a point of pride, too, they can say to their buddies come on down to “their bar” and they helped build it.

David: I would definitely say that there is, I live around here, and our friends live around here. There’s kind of a sense of ownership around this bar in general, right. It’s like this is ours. This is our place.

Jason: Yeah, and that’s awesome, that’s great. Like that’s…there is definitely a sense of community with our regular customer base, and with all the promoters that we deal with on a weekly basis, and the bands that we deal with, and the artists, and the comedians, and the hosts for all the different nights. Like it’s yeah, there’s a…

David: So I guess sort of…I kind of cut in there and cut you off, but there was a bunch of building stuff you had to get done, a bunch of licensing you had to get done, and then also just a bunch of managerial stuff, right, like you’re operating a full kitchen here. You’ve got obviously bartenders working, and then you’ve got events staff of some sort, booking. And I guess the promotions are probably someone else’s responsibility. But that still comes out to a lot of balls to juggle.

Jason: Yeah, it’s, a lot of times it’s a…you had a lot of little things going on all at once. And it definitely adds up. But thankfully we have, we’ve gotten pretty good at delegating who’s doing what, and who is in charge of what…

David: How does it work on a day-to-day basis, how do you break down, how do you make sure that none of these balls get dropped?

Jason: Pure dumb luck. We’re at the point now where we’re starting to get…you know at first it was literally just like everyone’s running around, and we’re getting pulled in 10 different directions at once, and just, a lot of balls were being dropped constantly. And just slowly as we go, they’re, we’re dropping less and less of them as we go. It’s not to say that we don’t mess things up sometimes, because oh lord, do I ever. We all have our days. But yeah, it’s a lot of little things. Definitely more than I could ever imagine handling on my own, I think.

David: How many employees do you have here now?

Jason: Right now, well there’s myself and the two other owners, Steve and Kirian, and then right now, we’re probably sitting at, oh maybe 10 employees. Less than…a little…maybe like eight. A lot of people that work here have other full time gigs going on and stuff, so…

David: Sure, they’re working in the evenings kind of thing.

Jason: Yeah, yeah, yeah, couple of, a couple of my staff have full time jobs and then just work here a couple times, part time on the weekends and stuff.

David: Right, right. So that’s like bartenders, bar backs and security, I guess.

Jason: Bartenders, bar backs, security, sound guys, [inaudible] who does all our booking. Yeah, that’s about it. There’s really not…but it’s, in a small place like this…

David: Everybody kind of does everything.

Jason: Yeah, everyone, there’s no, I don’t have a contract with a job title in it for anyone, pretty much… I’m one of the owners, and last night I was doing dishes for three hours. That’s just how it goes, right? We…

David: Dishwasher broken again, actually?

Jason: No it’s still, it hasn’t broken again yet, thing is the bane of my existence, but no, we were just swamped for a while, and I made the mistake of not leaving while I had the chance, and I got stuck bussing tables and doing dishes, but that’s all right, that’s just how she goes. But yeah, you have to wear many hats here, and everyone pretty much helps out wherever they’re needed.

David: No kidding. Jumping back, I’m jumping around a lot, I apologize, but that’s how I am. Jumping back to the community aspect of this bar, and the role this bar plays in the community, what do you think is next for Sherbrook? What do you think we need to do? What do you think we need to see? What’s the best case scenario going forward for us?

Jason: I love this neighborhood, I love the fact that I’m able to operate a business on this strip, it’s crazy. I still don’t understand how I managed to pull it off. I live in the neighborhood too, so the changes that are happening here, the new businesses that are popping up, the new housing… new apartments and stuff that are getting built, I’m all for it. The more denser the neighborhood, the better. I would love to see some more mixed use housing/retail stuff go up. And yeah, more bars and restaurants. Like I mean that’s…

David: Really, eh? I find that interesting to hear. You basically are asking for more competition?

Jason: Oh, absolutely. The more people that we get into this neighborhood, the better. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a bad thing.

David: Right, because I guess it makes it a place to be. Right?

Jason: Oh, for sure, yeah. And you know, I love the fact that sometimes I’ll be here or whatever, and then something will be going on down at The Tallest Poppy, and I can walk 100 yards down the street and go there and see pretty much the same crowd, all the familiar faces, all my friends, having different events going on. The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned.

David: No kidding. Cool. Trying to think what other questions I have for you. I think we’ve covered a lot of stuff here. I will ask, and this is coming out of left field a little bit. There’s two questions that I always ask pretty much every guest.

Jason: Okay.

David: One of them is, are you a reader? And if so, what books would you recommend people read?

Jason: I am absolutely not a reader. I have horrible crippling ADHD, and the attention span of a hummingbird, and reading is…

David: You should get into audio books. That’s what I’ve been doing. It works really well.

Jason: I don’t even have the attention…I mean to get into get the audio books, then something shiny catches my eye, and I forget all about them. I yeah, no I am…I’ve never been much of a reader. I try to read sometimes. It’s been a while. I think the last time I read a book was well before I got the keys to his place, that’s for sure. I don’t, unfortunately, have too much downtime these days…

David: Fair enough, yeah.

Jason: But maybe one day I’ll get my hands on an audio book and turn my phone off for a while and…

David: Fair enough. Cool. All right, second question. This is the last one. Are there any people that have helped you out on your way up, or people that maybe you didn’t even know, but you looked up to as your were figuring out the ropes?

Jason: I wouldn’t say anyone in particular. Anyone who has done this before me, maybe I didn’t appreciate it at the time when I was going through starting up or when I was thinking about doing it. But now that I’ve gone through that process, I totally have much respect and admiration to anyone who has ever attempted to do anything on their own. Yeah, it’s crazy how you could, you’re walking on the street and you’re passing by business after business after business. And inside every single one of those businesses, there’s a person or a family or a group of friends who have, against all odds, managed to create something out of nothing.

David: Right, right, who hustled beyond belief and just pulled things together.

Jason: Yeah, makes you think, every time you’re walking by a window of a repair shop, or a vacuum store or stuff like that. It’s like, hey, that’s somebody’s life right there. That’s putting food on the table for maybe several families, and it didn’t just happen. It doesn’t matter how mundane it might be, we’re lucky in the fact that, owning a bar or a music venue or a restaurant is like it’s a cool thing, it’s like a…but like yeah, everything else, like every other small business out there, just as trying, just as frustrating, it’s a labor of love, whether it’s making cocktails or fixing someone’s vacuum, I guess.

David: Cool, all right. Well, thanks so much for your time, Jason. It’s been fun.

Jason: No worries. All right, thanks a lot.

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