Ottawa: Aboriginal Bistro needs $200,000 fundraiser


The future of Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro at 108 Murray St. remains uncertain today after the landlord changed the locks July 21 and taped a notice on the door citing non-payment of rent.

Meanwhile, resto owner Phoebe Sutherland is in northern Quebec looking for backers to help restart her business in her Campaign to Save Sweetgrass.

Another sign on the door, directly below the one from the landlord, says simply: “Closed ’til Further Notice. Sorry for the Inconvenience!!”

Says the landlord’s official notice: “Further to our distress, it has become necessary, for the protection of such goods and for the protection of the landlord’s right of distress, that the goods be removed and stored in a safe place, and/or that the locks of the premises be changed, but that, notwithstanding the change of the locks by the landlord for the purpose of protecting the goods, your rights as tenant to the premises continue to be recognized and you may, upon request to the landlord or its baliff, re-enter the premises and continue to occupy them and use them.

“You may replevy your goods upon payment of arrears in rent, plus costs and charges, as above,” the notice concludes.

The landlord is identified as 108 Murray Properties Ltd. Repeated attempts to contact the landlord at the number posted were not successful.

Contacted by intermittent cell phone service at Lake Mistassini of the Cree Nation, about 360 km east of James Bay in Quebec, Sutherland said she was locked out after missing her rent payment by “two days.”  She owed about two months’ rent at the time, she said, “but now they want three months guaranteed on top of that.” Rent amounts to $4,500 a month, she said.

“I don’t have five months’ rent, and obviously I cannot do that,” she said. ”So I’m here up north fundraising, trying to find investors and help from the community at Lake Mistassini.”

Sutherland said she expects to be back in Ottawa for a few days this week before returning to north Quebec on the weekend. She’s looking for enough backing to at least secure a loan for $200,000, which she needs to cover rent arrears, taxes, suppliers and wages owed. In addition to rent, she said operating costs bring the monthly bill to $9,000. She estimates staff are owed about $6,000, including former executive chef Timothy O’Connor.

“I want to re-open, I hope to re-open, and I have faith we can do it,” Sutherland said. “I hope to know soon.

“I have to set up a couple of meetings with possible investors. I’d hope to re-open by September at the latest … If I do come back I’ll be starting off from scratch.”

Sweetgrass was launched in November 2003 by the husband/wife team of Phoebe and Warren Sutherland featuring a menu of game meats, smoked fish, wild greens, native breads with accents from Mexico and the Caribbean that reflected both of their cultures: Warren was born in Jamaica, while Phoebe is a Cree from James Bay.

The bistro soon won critical acclaim as one of the more interesting dining rooms in the ByWard Market, however the couple recently split and Phoebe has been running the place since March. Warren has since moved on to set up an authentic barbecue restaurant called The SmoQue Shack on York Street.

Contact The Canadian if you would like to help us raise $200,000 in support of this great Ottawa restaurant.

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