Almost three years ago, Steven “Stick” Harris and Emily Ienzi opened the doors of their first restaurant Two Six Ate. Featuring a small plates menu and a kitchen that stays open until 2am (not to mention some bad ass Star Wars art and a Miss Pacman machine), they achieved hot spot status shortly after their open. Today I got the chance to talk with Emily Ienzi about their success and what got them where they are.
A: In a few words how would you describe 268s concept and brand of hospitality?
E: Our hospitality is definitely casual and relaxed, but professional. Our concept is using local, fresh, sustainable products and making everything in house. We change our menu seasonally and try to respect the ingredients we use by using the entire animal.
A: How did you find yourselves opening a space together at relatively young ages?
E: We were both working in the industry for a long time. Steve had been cooking and running kitchens for about 15 years, and I had been serving / managing for about 8 years. We started dating and soon started talking about opening up our own place. With Steve having back of house experience, and my front of house experience, we realized we had a good formula for success. We started saving cash and with some help from family we were able to find a space.
A: Anyone who is really passionate about hospitality always dreams of owning their own spot. How was the idea of 268 born and how did it evolve to the opening?
E: Originally we had really wanted to open a food truck. However, in 2012 they were not handing out any licenses. We tried to get on waiting lists with no luck – impossible to even get a call back from the city. We started thinking about other options, and looked at a few restaurants for sale. We found this space and within a few days everything just snowballed. We were open within 5 weeks of purchasing the business. It was pretty crazy. We didn’t even have a name for the place until about two weeks before we opened.
A: Ottawa has seen some high profile restaurants closures in recent years. As you are going on 3 years, to what do you attribute your immediate and ongoing success?
E: I think a lot of it has to do with hard work, we are both here pretty much all the time, making sure things are running the way we want them to. In addition, we kind of opened quietly – no one really knew who we were. We were able to work out some kinks before there was a lot of attention on us which I think helped us out a bit. Lastly but probably one of the main reasons we’re doing alright, is the fact that we change the dinner and cocktail menu pretty regularly which keeps our guests interested in what we’re doing, and keeps us interested as well.
A: With an increasingly crowded restaurant scene in the city, what have you done that has separated you from the herd?
E: Definitely our hours and menu. We’re one of the few restaurants that is not only open until 2am but also serves their entire menu until 2am, not a condensed or snack menu like a lot of other places. This is one thing that I believe sets us apart from other late night places. We also never close early. A little over a year ago we started a half price bottles of wine and half price local draught beer night on Sundays. Kind of an industry night / customer appreciation night. Our Sundays have gotten crazy since we started this promotion. We also do a bi-monthly brunch where we offer a 3 course brunch blind tasting menu for $30. It’s a lot of fun for both staff and guests and we get to make a really creative, experimental breakfast menu. Something a little different than your usual brunch options. We will soon be starting a prosecco and charcuterie happy hour during the week, so watch out for that! Staying relevant, keeping things interesting, and evolving is important for a restaurant to be successful.
A: Two meals you make at home: the first when you get home from a late night and the other when you have the night off:
E: Home from a late night: seafood dashi (we always keep a couple of stock bags in the freezer) with dumplings or wontons (always keep these in the freezer too), tofu, and random veggies out of the fridge (Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, ginger, chilies, green onion, etc….)
Night off: Either a seafood crudo, ceviche, or sashimi (we keep the bones to make dashi broth for our late night snacks) or carpaccio or tartare – basically anything raw!
A: What’s your favourite offering currently on your menu?
E: Steve loves the focaccia – its topped with a whipped, spreadable, and lightly fermented, thüringer bratwurst, house made pickles, and sweet mustard seeds
My favourite is definitely the land + sea – roasted octopus, n’duja (which is a spicy Italian spreadable sausage) pickled potatoes, yoghurt, ocean veggies, and seasonal veggies.
A: Pig, cow or chicken?
E: Pig – it’s a magical beast that makes everything delicious