The Fat Sparrow Group launched the Fat Sparrow Block in October after renovating the former Stone Crock Bakery.
Located on King St. in St. Jacobs, the Fat Sparrow Block features two new venues in one space: The Butcher and Market and The Charcuterie Bar.
The 5,000-square-foot space features a butcher shop offering local farm-fresh meats, cheese and other goods along with a licensed 45-seat restaurant.
Nick Benninger, cofounder of and chef at Fat Sparrow Group, described the concept as being able to eat and drink in a butcher shop.
Benninger and his brother, Joe Benninger, got the opportunity to purchase The Stone Crock Bakery in 2017. Benninger said buying the property and business was a move that Benninger said was a crucial long-term business decision.
“Restaurants don’t make much money, but owning real estate does. We realized back in 2017 that if we were ever going to make long term gains in the industry, that real estate had to be a part of it,” Benninger said.
Benninger said the Stone Crock Bakery purchase presented the Fat Sparrow Group with an opportunity to incorporate a successful bakery and catering company into its operation.
Having the space and equipment supports its operations across its restaurants and brands in St. Jacobs and Waterloo.
The space is also home to Fat Sparrow Catering and Events and is the production facility for their wholesale baking operation.
“Making food from scratch is so important to us as a company. As we grew to four restaurants at the time, it was harder and harder for us to do while maintaining the quality and consistency and training we want. We saw it as an opportunity to really vertically integrate in a way that stays true to our core identity,” Benninger said.
Benninger kept the Stone Crock Bakery name on the restaurant after purchasing it in 2018. At the same time, a significant shift was occurring in the popular tourist spot. St. Jacobs had long been a destination for large international tours, which would descend upon the town in tour buses.
But even before the pandemic, the number of international tourists had declined. Benninger said that new businesses like Block Three Brewing and the Eco Cafe started to move in to serve a burgeoning regional tourism market.
“We are a village out here on a bus route that is five kilometers from the city of a half a million people. We knew that this village had local tourism potential. [COVID-19] kicked it all up a notch, but we had the right mix of entrepreneurial spirits in the village that were ready to pivot and capture the opportunity that comes along with crisis,” Benninger said.
Some changes that Benninger wanted to make early on were put on hold due to existing customer expectations, including their buffet.
When pandemic public health measures forced restaurants to move to online ordering, Benninger said it was an opportunity to rip out the buffet and make the changes they needed to survive.
“When we thought about what we’re going to do at this phase, we said let’s totally change it. Let’s take advantage of all of these people that visit the Village on weekends who come from local instead of far away,” Benninger said.
The Fat Sparrow Block joins several businesses making a move to St. Jacobs. Graffiti Market owners The Ignite Group of Brands are planning to open a coffee shop and brewery in the St. Jacobs Market District. Neruda Arts recently moved to St. Jacobs from Waterloo.
Benninger said he welcomes the additions to the neighbourhood.
Benninger is well-known in the Waterloo Region culinary scene. Along with his wife and fellow chef Natalie Benninger, the Fat Sparrow Group restaurants have included Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21, Marbles, Taco Farm and a revived Harmony Lunch from 2016 to 2020.
“We’ve always believed that high tides raise all boats. I’d rather be surrounded by like-minded healthy businesses than alone on an island,” Benninger said.
“The last thing we would want is another Walmart or something to that effect. Anything that brings people to the region and is good for all of us,” he said.