Century Hospitality Group owner Chris Lachance said he is always looking for opportunities to grow. While he has passed on more than two dozen offers to expand over the past few years because they weren't right, Lachance was intrigued when he was contacted by a friend over the summer. He was an investor in Bottega 104 and shared with Lachance that it would close in September.
"I already knew the (Bottega 104) landlord, and he was very flexible and accommodating," said Lachance. "And my friend stayed on as a partner at Birdog and made it easy to transition."
The name of the restaurant came to Lachance in a dream. The term "bird dog" primarily refers to hunting dogs that fetch game birds after they are shot, but it is also a term in sales parlance for referrals in business. For Lachance, Birdog perfectly conveys what he is trying to achieve with the guest experience.
"It's the relentless pursuit to get what you're after," said Lachance. "In the hospitality business, it's the way you make people feel. So let's do something great here, go after it, and let's bring those guests back."
Lachance said Birdog was designed to fill a gap he identified in the area. "We looked at what was missing downtown, and thought we could bring in a restaurant with a really cool lobby hotel feel," said Lachance.
While Birdog retained Bottega's long bar along one wall, the new layout opens up the space. There is also a private room in the back that accommodates up to 12, with its own private washroom. At present, Birdog is open for dinner Tuesdays to Sundays but will consider adding lunch and brunch depending on the response from the community.
While he is proud of the drink menu, Lachance was quick to emphasize that Birdog has a "serious kitchen." Culinary leader Tony Le has created an approachable menu not out of step with other Century Hospitality properties.
For example, pizzas feature prominently on the menu, as Century retained Bottega 104's industrious pizza oven. "It's the Ferrari of pizza ovens," said Le. "At Parlour, I had to learn how to control a wood-fired oven for our pizzas. Here, it holds a consistent temperature, so I don't have to worry about it."
In addition, Le highlighted the burger on the menu, a Minnesota-style "Juicy Lucy." The beef patty is stuffed with American cheddar and served on Martin's Famous Potato Rolls, brought in from Pennsylvania. They're the same buns used at the popular American chain Shake Shack.
Korean-inspired dishes are also on the menu, with kimchi mac and cheese, kimchi wings, and Le's version of Korean corn cheese. "Maybe I've been watching too much K-dramas," laughed Le.
Experimentation with Korean flavours ties in well with Century Hospitality's next project, Stingray, located in the former Delux space in Crestwood (Century Hospitality had sold its burger-focused property Delux a few years prior, but subsumed it over the summer). To open in 2023, Stingray will allow Le to flex his interest in pan-Asian cuisines, including tastes from his Vietnamese heritage.
Both Lachance and Le credit their loyal customer base as the reason they continue to thrive, in spite of several rough years during the pandemic. "It was the worst time in my life," said Lachance. "But to see our guests coming out to ask what we needed, I cried. That's what being rooted in the community is all about."