They say operating a restaurant is one of the most difficult passions in life. Now try operating six of them and you've created a formula for being busy! Scott Ouellette wouldn't have it any other way and based on the accolades, awards and reviews on various websites, he has achieved tremendous success.
Scott, your first restaurant was Canoe Restaurant & Tavern in Center Harbor... How old were you and how did it start?
"I was 38 in 2004, a good friend of mine, Carla Peterson from Hector's Restaurant, owned this property at the time and I said 'if you ever get sick of this place let me know'. The fun began after that...There were canoes hanging from the ceiling, so that's where I got the name, 'Canoe'. The building had 186 seats and I loved the location overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and the cozy, comfortable feeling of the building."
...and before that?
"I grew up in Bedford and Merrimack, N.H., working in the restaurant industry under various chefs. I then operated my first restaurant, Sea Garden in Rockport, Mass. I also had an interest in finance over the years, having worked for Transamerica for five years doing their financing transactions throughout New England and New York."
Which restaurant came next?
"O's Steak & Seafood. A great opportunity was presented to me at the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa. I loved the location, the physical structure, the fact it was right on the water and had a fabulous inn already in place. I took a chance, it was a total startup and the owners were fantastic to work with. It was a complete rehab and a really interesting structure to work with. We ended up with 192 seats including outdoor seating overlooking the lake. "
What happened to The North End Restaurant in Moultonborough?
"We opened it as an 80-seat restaurant on Route 25 in Moultonborough. Seasonal help was tough and we decided to turn the operation into a full time catering and banquet facility. We've handled catering events as far away as Nantucket and have traveled off to Keene, North Conway, the Seacoast, Nashua as well as the Lakes Region. We have 12 servers and 4 full time chefs in the catering operation."
Off to a new market in Concord...
"Michael Simchik who developed Capital Commons approached me at O's in Laconia. We discussed the possibility of opening a new restaurant at his complex. I was sold on the idea when I visited the building. It had Red River Theaters and the Performing Arts Center. It was a new building with a great parking lot and huge government and year round local business. It was the perfect place to duplicate the O's experience. That's just what we did. It was approximately 5,600 square feet with 180 seats. I could already see similarities at O's, mimicking the ambience and upscale décor we have in Laconia."
Back to your roots in Bedford
"Having grown up in Bedford, I knew the surroundings and marketplace. So when a former chain steakhouse became available at 216 South River Road, I jumped at the opportunity to convert it into a new restaurant and combine the Canoe and O's concept. We changed the whole look and feel of the building and ended up with 176 seats and opened as "Canoe" in March 2015. We found that many of our customers had heard of us from Canoe in Center Harbor, where they owned second homes; they felt like they were on vacation again. The location was perfect and has many local businesses drawing customers from all over."
I just stopped by O's Bistro at The Inn in Main in Wolfeboro...another one!
"The owners of the inn approached me about catering at their large barn out back. I was hesitant about opening in such a seasonal area again but I've always loved Wolfeboro. We were able to strike an agreement to take over the entire food services and open a smaller venue of 90 seats plus we have 200 seats within the barn for lots of catering events. We combined O's and Canoe's atmosphere again and it's been great in the winter and summer. We have a wonderful local following there."
How do you keep everything under control?
"I have a great partner and director of operations, Andy Juhasz. He is involved in both catering and the restaurants for Magic Foods Restaurant Group. It's tough, that's for sure. Some days I'll see every restaurant and then others I'll only visit a few. The key to the business is finding good help and surrounding you with excellent people. The most difficult part of the business is always finding help; I currently have 220 employees, which includes 24 chefs/managers."
How stressful is the industry?
"When you think about it, we might serve 1,500-2,000 customers per day between the five restaurants and catering operations, that's a lot of different personalities and a lot of different tastes to satisfy. Add 220 employees with their own personalities and you can see the complexity of what's involved. Everyone has a bad day every now and then and it's our goal to make sure we provide the very best food possible and always the best service."
What do you like most about the Lakes Region?
"I'm so fortunate to be able to live and work where everyone vacations. It seems so many people find their way back to the Lakes Region after experiencing other parts of the country. There are many 2nd home owners and retired couples that flock to our beautiful lakes. During the winter months my wife Lynn and I love snowmobiling up north and we enjoy boating three or four times in the summer, if we're lucky."
So there you are... another risk taker and creative chef that took a chance and financial risk putting in the long hours to fulfill his dream. No doubt New Hampshire has welcomed this all around good guy and great entrepreneur to the Granite State.
Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market. Frank Roche is president of Roche Realty Group in Meredith & Laconia, N.H. and can be reached at (603) 279-7046.
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