Whenever opportunity has popped up, a certain Cambridge-based food and hospitality company has taken advantage. B•Hospitality is the group of companies that came into being in 2017 and which includes the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre, B @ THEMUSEUM, The Bruce Caboose and Bruce Beast food trucks, and an impressive new kitchen facility at Kitchener’s equally impressive Lot42. The company got its start around 2005 when the Guelph-based Skyline Group of Companies, co-founded by Martin Castellan, began contemplating a joint hotel concept. Unfortunately, Future Inns hotelier Bruce Brett, a partner in the business arrangement and someone who had become a mentor, passed away suddenly and plans were forced to change.
Opportunity persisted, and in 2007 The Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre opened, with good food in the community as a focus. “We wanted a full-service restaurant in the hotel because that adds to the guest experience, and we wanted to operate it in order to control our own destiny,” Castellan says. The restaurant was named The Bruce (and later Bruce Craft House) in Brett’s honour. The focus was for the venue to be “Cambridge’s hotel” and satisfy guests in terms of comfort and accessibility when it came to accommodation and dining, at the same time that it captured a share of the Cambridge community’s interest in the region’s burgeoning food and beverage scene. “There were lineups at The Keg because they do steak well,” according to Castellan. “We had to figure out what we could do well and give good value and comfort, and that’s the way it has evolved.” That aspect of the business model is the purview of Regional Executive Chef Aaron Clyne, who joined the company to develop the food and beverage program and shape its local nature. “Between 2010 and 2015, we spent a lot of time forging relationships with farmers and producers and our other partners, as well as finding the right staff and building the brand in the community,” says Clyne, a graduate of the George Brown College culinary program.
In 2015 the group added the Bruce Caboose food truck. “We started to realize that the demand for the food and beverage we were offering was more than we could sustain within the Cambridge Hotel, so we took it to the people out in the surrounding community,” Clyne says. When Imbibe in THEMUSEUM in central downtown Kitchener closed in the same year, they took over the space and re-branded it as B @ THEMUSEUM, a quaint and cozy bar that is hugely popular with lovers of a diverse range of craft beer. “Our Managing Director Billie-Anne Arthur brought it to my attention, and we thought that it might be a good opportunity to work out some more catering,” Castellan says, adding that a Kitchener presence would also give the company a more regional face. And the catering, in fact, was growing.
The following year the group launched B•Elegant Catering and Event Planning, before adding The Bruce Beast food truck to its rapidly growing portfolio in 2017. “We also revamped the Bruce Restaurant and Lounge and re-branded it Bruce Craft House,” says Clyne. The restaurant is a collaborative effort between the Cambridge Hotel and B•Hospitality with touchstones fire, craft beer and local food; a focus of the restaurant is the stone pizza oven that is used to make pizza, breads and bagels. There are about a dozen craft beers on tap.
All of that opportunity was topped off in 2018 when B•Hospitality built a magnificent 7,500-square-foot catering and events kitchen at Kitchener’s mammoth Lot42, where the company is the food and beverage partner. Referred to as a “global flex campus,” Lot42 is a 17-acre industrial complex built six decades ago on Ardelt Place, replete with original windows, open-web steel-joist ceilings, a gantry crane from the 1950s which straddles the space — one room of which alone occupies about 40,000 square feet. “It’s what [Lot42 owner] Ron Doyle called an ‘industrial gothic cathedral.’ You don’t purpose-build something like that, but it’s there and it’s a unique and amazing space,” says Castellan. “The kitchen gives us the opportunity to do a lot of catering, and the team is excited to build the venue as a showcase piece.”
The business’s evolution represents “a lot of growth in less than four years,” according to Clyne, but the idea of local food has never been lost. “To ask if you’re focused on local is a loaded question nowadays,” Clyne says. “The term has been used as a sales pitch, but I firmly believe it should refer to how you operate. We do a lot of fantastic things in this region, and I don’t think enough restaurants are capitalizing on that, though a lot more are now. I knew a lot of farmers and producers from the past, and they do some great stuff. It just makes sense to work with them now,” says Clyne, who is conscious of minimizing the restaurants’ carbon footprint at the same time as showcasing great local products. The range of local product they use is significant too; the hotel’s in-room amenities might include simple maple syrup or chocolates made by Reid, but at the same time at Lot42 crews are breaking down entire Wagyu cattle that come from a farm in St. Jacobs — and dry-aging it for 90 days in preparation for a company function. All the poultry comes from local farms, including Tanjo Family Farm in Millbank.
Castellan is also a co-owner of Four Fathers Brewing located on Guelph Avenue in Hespeler, which is allied with B•Hospitality but operated independently. Three flagship beers are available at The Beer Store and LCBO, and about a dozen seasonal and one-off products are available at the brewery, which also houses a small pub. “Certainly, any synergy and cooperation we can have with B•Hospitality, we’re game for that,” Castellan says. For his part, Clyne loves the beer scene. “It has just exploded. You once had to go seek out a craft beer spot, which was great for the craft beer spot but not for the consumer. Now everywhere has it, and it’s really accessible. There is so much going on with so many great breweries.” While he admits that it makes the industry more competitive, it also makes things more exciting.
Future opportunities are, in ways, in progress currently, given the techniques and experiments that the kitchen at Lot42 is engaged in. “In the dry-age fridge right now we have a full bone-in tomahawk-style Wagyu rib that has been going for about 75 days,” says Clyne. There’s also cheese-making, smoking and curing that take place. “We do a lot of butchery. We’ll bring in 300 ducks and break them down and ship them to our various venues,” he adds. In a sense, it’s a production facility that is farm-to-kitchen where a farmer can pre-sell an entire lot of birds or beef. “It certainly makes the farmers’ business a lot easier and ours too when I know I don’t have to go to ten different farmers,” Clyne says. “We’re almost exclusive with most of our producers.” If you ask Castellan what’s ahead for the growing company, he, on the one hand, speaks generally that “this has been an evolution that’s about building a team and capability;” on the other, however, that team will be focused on the Lot42 kitchen, at least in the immediate future, no matter what shapes it assumes. “We want to showcase that kitchen as best we can,” says Castellan, noting that it can also be an instructional and demonstration space. “We want to be able to offer exciting and unique food experiences for people.”
Bruce Craft House
in the Cambridge Hotel & Conference Centre
700 Hespeler Road, Cambridge
Monday–Thursday: 6 am–11 pm
Friday & Saturday: 7 am–midnight
Sunday: 7 am–10:30 pm
Holidays: 7 am–10 pm
The Bruce Caboose
10 King Street W., Kitchener
Monday: closed (available for private events)
Tuesday–Thursday: 11 am–11 pm
Friday: 11 am–1 am
Saturday: 11 am–midnight
Sunday: 11 am–4pm (Brunch served all day)
B•Elegant Catering & Event Planning
LOT42 Global Flex Campus
41 Ardelt Place, Kitchener
For info on all spaces go to lot42.ca/our-spaces