The gang from L’Affaire est Ketchup in Quebec City
The gang from L’Affaire est Ketchup: The beginning of the restaurant industry revolution in Quebec City
“Before, the restaurant industry in Quebec City was a bit archaic. There were a lot of good gourmet restaurants and a lot of ‘tourist traps’, but nothing else. L’Affaire est Ketchup came and broke everything! By evolving like that, the restaurant industry allowed the appearance of places where you could eat and drink very well, without judgment, without being taken advantage of, at a reasonable price, and in an atmosphere that was always fun,” explains Olivier Thibault-Allard with enthusiasm.
Initially, this portrait was to be about the restaurateur François Jobin. Then Olivier Lescelleur Saint-Cyr was added “because everything was done with him and it doesn’t make sense without him. Next, Benoît Fortin-Lyonnais was added, “because we would never have made it without him.” Then Olivier Thibault-Allard, Marc-André Chénard, Benoît Poliquin, and Baptiste Creveuil were added, “because our story cannot be told without them; they are part of the DNA of everything that has happened to arrive at the history of our restaurants today.” And like this interview, the restaurants L’Affaire est Ketchup, Le Patente et Machin, Kraken Cru, L’Albacore, and Ket’chose are like one big kitchen party. These restaurants are five of the best tables in Quebec City and above all five restaurants that have made things happen in the hospitality industry of the capital. Here’s a portrait of some extraordinary guys.
“L’Affaire est Ketchup”
Olivier L. was manager of a cheese shop and did 9 to 5 — “I tried a more corporate life; it didn’t last long and it didn’t go too well for me!” (Laughs). François and Olivier met and had the idea of opening a restaurant together. “One day, we came across this space for rent.” So the dynamic duo opened, with little money and a lot of goodwill. “All of the decor for L’Affaire est Ketchup comes from my apartment,” says Olivier L.
“In the 90’s, the neighbourhood in Quebec City where L’Affaire est Ketchup was established was really trashy! During the biker war, a guy got shot at this table while eating his steak au poivre — it’s table 4 now. There was also a car bomb that exploded right across the street,” laughs Olivier T. As you can imagine, things have changed. The neighbourhood is now gentrified and has quickly become one of the most popular in the Quebec capital, thanks in part to the restaurants of this group of young people.
As soon as l’Affaire est Ketchup opened, the small restaurant received impressive media coverage and the two friends quickly opened for four lunch and five evening services per week. In fact, the address is different from what Quebec City traditionally offers: it has a rustic and humble decor, excellent dishes, friendly service, and a festive atmosphere.
“From the beginning, we were very lucky; we had the support of other restaurants in Quebec City. Clocher Penché, Lapin Sauté, Saint-Amour, Panache; on busy nights, they always sent customers our way. The wine guys and other restaurants also referred us. They were great. There is a will in Quebec City for restaurants to work; nobody fights here, it’s really a small world and everybody wants it to work. The competition is very healthy; we all try to make it better. We go out to eat at other restaurants and it’s never about judging others, it’s more about partying! Everyone works at the same time, we work for progress, not for regression.”
Olivier T., for his part, was looking for a job. “I looked in the classified ads and found an ad for L’Affaire est Ketchup. The owners weren’t there for the interview so I got the job.” (Laughs). He started two nights a week while continuing his studies.
The restaurant L’Affaire est Ketchup was so popular that the owners decided to open Patente et Machin. The second restaurant was created in the same spirit as L’Affaire est Ketchup, but with the ability to accommodate more people and more groups. The restaurant is larger and the plates are just as delicious and generous, but easier to share. “It wasn’t easy to get people to understand that we were doing things differently, but it worked! For example, at first, no one really understood that reservations were made at 6:00, 7:00 and 8:30 p.m., but eventually people got it. Those who took the trouble to discover our address were always very happy. And slowly, the clientele changed a lot, there was a new open-mindedness! Before there always had to be a beef dish, but now it can be a red meat without being beef. And it doesn’t always have to have potatoes and gravy. You can serve bison, deer, or beef. It’s a steak, but a steak of something else.”
While L’Affaire est Ketchup was rolling and Patente et Machin was full all the time, Olivier L. and Francois realized that they’d taken on a bit too much. “We needed a little help, let’s say.” So they went looking for Benoît F. who worked at L’Affaire est Ketchup: “I was stressed about not being able to work a forty-hour week.” Olivier L. and François quickly realized that they needed more than a little help. “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I ended up doing a lot more than forty hours a week!” (Laughs). Benoît F. joined the team as a partner when Patente et Machin opened, and everything started running more smoothly.
In 2010, Marc-André took over the role of chef at l’Affaire est Ketchup and quickly became a mainstay of the restaurant. He continued everything François started, while adding his personal touch. He’s taking his vision to the next level by pushing the restaurant to new horizons.
Although he works two nights a week at L’Affaire est Ketchup, Olivier T. is continuing his studies to become a civil engineer. “I was trying to get out of the restaurant industry, I wanted to work in construction.” However, it obviously didn’t work out that way. He was offered a position as chef at Patente et Machin, which he immediately accepted.
In the meantime, in addition to all their creations, the team opened an ephemeral sugar shack restaurant of about twenty seats, at Bois-de-Coulonge in the park. This sugar shack is unique! It’s like a secret place that suddenly appears when the apples are ready to harvest, when it’s the holidays, and when it’s the sugaring off season. Tickets are sold only on the Facebook page of L’Affaire est Ketchup and customers go crazy for it.
While François was on a trip to Boston, he stumbled upon an oyster bar, and fell in love with the concept. At the same time, Olivier T. was in Portland where he also fell in love with the concept of an oyster bar. While discussing their experiences, they decided to open something like this in Quebec City. A month and a half later, a small space for rent became available and the price was affordable; Kraken Cru was born. Olivier T. left his position as chef at Patente et Machin and became the chef and co-owner of Kraken Cru.
When Kraken Cru opened its doors it was a huge success! It made the top of En Route magazine’s ranking of the best restaurants in Canada within the first few months and was constantly full. The reason is simple: even if Kraken Cru is a place as festive and pleasant as the other restaurants of the group, it offers an original concept of oyster bar and small plates to share, all emphasizing the freshness of fish and seafood.
A few months later, Baptiste joined the team. A pastry chef by training, he worked at the Château Bonne Entente. He often came to eat at l’Affaire est Ketchup with Marc-André. “He was such a newcomer from France that he didn’t understand anything we said at first. (Laughs). He also always wore pink V-necks and wore a lot of perfume; it didn’t last long!”
After that, the happy gang picked up a small sandwich shop in the Limoilou neighbourhood. “We tried to make some real money. (Laughs) We wanted to do take-out, but it didn’t work out. I guess we’re not very good at that.”
Next, Benoit Poliquin of the restaurant Versa approached Francois. “I asked him if he wanted to work with us. We opened Albacore. Ben, he’s our New Yorker, the one who puts gel in his hair and definitely has the cleanest apartment.” (Laughs). Right away, the fit was perfect and the new team got along very well. Upon opening, the address received a lot of exposure and press coverage. Albacore offers generous and delicious plates, mostly focused on fish; all in a more elaborate decor than the team’s other restaurants.
At the same time, the sandwich shop was really not doing well. Baptiste was at the Cabane à Sucre du Pied de Cochon and he wanted to come back to Quebec City. François needed help, so he decided to take the sandwich shop, renovate it, and restart the project with Baptiste. “We did what we know how to do, we made another restaurant!” Ket’Chose offers a formula that resembles those of other addresses, but with Baptiste’s personal touch. It has a very simple decor, an open kitchen, and extremely delicious plates.
“We believe that if you are well advised, well served, and eat well, you will leave happy. Our goal was to create restaurants where you don’t feel like getting the hell out as soon as you’re done. We’re not in a hurry to finish our shift, and friends come to join us. If they come and join you, you’re going to finish late, but you get the idea…”
Since the beginning of this crazy adventure, the group of restaurateurs has offered unique evenings to thousands of customers. The gang from L’Affaire est Ketchup has come to start a revolution in the restaurant industry in Quebec City and has brought with it a whole series of delicious addresses. The restaurant world in Quebec City is no longer what it used to be; it is creative, inventive, delicious, and unique. “For us, the main thing is to have fun with friends. Every night. Our restaurants are all very festive; we sell happiness, we sell fun.”
Written by Élise Tastet