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‘Everybody told me I was crazy’; Bar owners kick it up a notch with new location

For this week’s What’s Up Wednesday, we sat down with Steve Walker, owner of 1858 Caesar Bar on Hurontario Street
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Steve and Vanessa Walker sit on the patio for the new location of 1858 Caesar Bar in Collingwood at 171 Hurontario Street. Jessica Owen/CollingwoodToday

Everything’s coming up Caesars.

Steve Walker and his wife Vanessa own 1858 Caesar Bar, and are making the move to a larger venue at 158 Hurontario St., across the street from their old location.

Between the move and expansion, the opening of two more Ontario locations and a spot on TV’s Dragon’s Den, the little Caesar bar is putting Collingwood on the map.

“If this town wasn’t as great as it is, I don’t know if somebody would drive down just for a Caesar,” Steve Walker said this week in an interview with CollingwoodToday. “It’s about working together with people. When you work with numbers, you’re stronger.”

Steve and Vanessa moved to Collingwood in 2013.

“When we found out we were pregnant... we wanted to (move somewhere) a little more vibrant, and a little more four-seasons. So we basically felt Collingwood was the best solution,” said Walker. “We came here on a whim not knowing anybody.”

The duo’s first Collingwood business was a pest control company, which funded their Walker’s One Shot business, getting it off the ground. Walker’s One Shot is a Caesar mix that takes the guesswork out of making a Caesar.

“It’s basically a Caesar elixir. There’s no fuss, no fumble. It makes the Caesar-making process easy,” said Walker. “When I created that product we initially thought we’d set up a small retail store.”

The product even made an appearance on Dragon’s Den. While Dragon Jim Treliving opted to support the business on-camera, Walker said he chose to walk away from the deal after the show aired.

“After doing our due diligence, we opted out, but it was a wonderful experience,” said Walker.

After considering the amount of retail already present in Collingwood’s downtown, the couple’s focus shifted to opening a Caesar bar instead to showcase the product.

“Everybody told me I was crazy, my wife included,” said Walker, with a laugh. “Lo and behold, here we are now, looking into expansion plans.”

Walker said shortly after opening at the old location attached to The Gayety Theatre, he knew very quickly that he had harnessed something special.

“We realized we didn’t just have a novelty or a niche. We had very small square footage over there – it was only 380 square feet,” said Walker, adding they could only accommodate 22 people total. The new location will have capacity just shy of 95.

“We think it will be great for the locals as well, because it was so small and we became such a tourist attraction that it was hard for the locals to come in. This gives us an opportunity to be able to serve people better,” said Walker. “We’re Caesars, but we’re very much like a Starbucks. It’s all about the flavour profile.”

In addition to expanding the Collingwood location, Walker said 1858 Caesar Bars will be popping up soon in Toronto and Waterloo. Walker said the Collingwood bar sold more than 37,000 Caesars last year.

When choosing a name for the bar, Walker said he wanted to honour Collingwood’s history.

“1858 is when Collingwood was incorporated. That number just seemed to flow,” said Walker. “It’s Canada’s first Caesar bar... but the reality is, it’s the world’s first Caesar bar.”

The menu in the old location served about 25 signature Caesars. The new location will see that number rise to 45 over time, as well as adding a brunch menu and appetizers.

There will be a retail corner in the new space, selling Walker’s One Shot and rimmers, as well as branded shirts, glasses and accessories. The upstairs in the new location will eventually become home to a tequila and tapas bar, called The Hidden Hare.

“We’re evolving. The new space has a modern and industrial feel,” said Walker. “We position ourselves at a price point level that’s fair for everybody. We also pay our employees well above minimum wage. That’s important to me.”

The new location of 1858 Caesar Bar is planned to be open by the Civic Holiday weekend, but being a perfectionist, Walker said the date isn’t set in stone.

“If I feel there are some deficiencies that need to be taken care of, we won’t. But, I’m hoping it will take no more than 10 days (Aug. 9),” he said.

Walker is hoping to have The Hidden Hare portion of the space open by September.