Waterloo businessman Ryan Good is bringing karaoke back to Uptown Waterloo with Le Shin-Swah, located in the former Patent Social space on the corner of Regina and Erb Street East. Good is the former owner of the beloved Chainsaw karaoke bar on King Street, which closed in March 2020.
Good said that after years of disruptions from LRT and streetscape construction and the pandemic, he is still optimistic about uptown businesses thriving again in 2022. Good is also a board member of the Uptown Waterloo BIA and said that he hopes the BIA and the City of Waterloo continue to find ways to have diverse groups activating different areas of uptown Waterloo to bring more people uptown.
Chainsaw was one of the first bars in Canada to announce that it would close permanently in the pandemic. Good said he made that decision because he knew the business would not survive a prolonged shutdown. As restrictions began to lift earlier this fall, Good noted there was still a void in the region’s bar scene for what Chainsaw had provided.
“There’s been a real void since Chainsaw left, not just because it was a drinking and party place, but because it was this inclusive community place where any group could use it as an event space,” Good said.
Beyond being a space where everyone felt welcomed, Chainsaw was also a place where anyone could pick up the microphone. Good said that his time running Chainsaw showed him how important it is for a space where people can sing.
While Le Shin-Swah will feature the return of karaoke to uptown Waterloo, Good said that he is not trying to create Chainsaw 2.0. Instead of being a place where you go to drink and then sing, Le Shin-Swah will be a space where singing is what gets people in the door.
“People needed to sing. Not just drunk students, but there are people that need to sing as a form of therapy. We would see them on the off nights or the early time before students came in. There is no other venue for that. If there’s a need that I can provide a space for, then I need to make it happen,” Good said.
Good described Le Shin-Swah as a space for former Chainsaw regulars whose lives have changed as they have grown older. The food, drinks, and events are designed for people who go out three to four times a year instead of three to four nights a week.
“When you get people on stage, whether they’ve been drinking or not, they’re always smiling. That’s what we need because when you see people at the bank or in line at the grocery store, everyone’s got this mask on and they’re scowling,” he said.
Supporting the new business model means offering different experiences throughout the day. Good said Le Shin-Swah has a four-prong approach to business. The building is home to the seasonal Scoop Du Jour ice cream shop that previously operated out of a trailer behind Chainsaw. During the day, Le Shin-Swah will be a high-end cafe serving coffee and espresso. The venue will transition to a rental event space in the evenings and then be open to the public two to three nights a week for karaoke.
“With Chainsaw, we had to see drinks—that was the business model. With Le Shin-Swah, the business model is where people come to sing, and if you want to buy a drink, you buy a drink. It’s like if you go to a waterpark, you’re going there for the waterslide, not for the food. It might be ambitious to think we can get away with that, but we’re going to try,” Good said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.