Collaborative Spaces: The Mercury Room inspires new ventures

This is a city where creativity and community go hand in hand. In this series I’m exploring the local businesses and spaces whose collaborative natures make them more than the sum of their parts.

Mercury Room Edmonton
Photo by Bruce Daniluck

Where do you go when you want to start a business, say a restaurant, but you don’t have enough capital, or customers or a space to work out of? The Mercury Room, at 10575 114 St., would be a good place to start. Rylan Krause and his partners Trevor Belsher and Steven Derpack have opened a space where people can both gather to appreciate art, music, and food, and have space to turn their creative passions and dreams into a reality. I talked to Krause about his role as chef in this space, which is part of a collection of other creative businesses housed in an old jacket factory in the Queen Mary Park neighborhood.

Familiar with the desire to build something of his own, Krause says he realized just how much he loved restaurants when he was in university and had exams coming up. Rather than studying, he would be picking up extra shifts, not for the money but because he just really wanted to be there. Having spent over a decade cooking, serving and bartending, he knew that he wanted to own his own restaurant someday, but it seemed unlikely that it would happen at such a young age.

Instead he did pop-up events as part of the Mirepoix trio and enjoyed the creative freedom that came with it.

“Every failure and every success was completely on us, so it made it more exciting,” he says.

After meeting Belsher, who had plenty of experience managing restaurants and a similar appetite for creation, they talked about combining their complementary skill sets and working towards something down the road. Then the Queen Mary Park space became available and they started discussing what they could do with it.

With two commercial kitchens at their disposal, they’re able to rent out the second one to up-and-comers who need a space to get their footing without worrying about the expenses of a full restaurant or a long-term lease.

Mercury Room Edmonton
Photo by Bruce Daniluck

“It’s basically an incubator kitchen,” says Krause. “We have this available, you can build up your clientele, your funding, resources, sales, and then hopefully you can move on and get your own full-time kitchen.” When someone rents out the space for a pop-up dinner or lunch, they don’t just get the kitchen either. The team is ready and willing to help out with service or anything else that might be needed.

“I have a baker that comes in and she wasn’t exactly sure how to run a business, so as I’m renting space I’m also explaining how to get a business license. I didn’t expect stuff like that but I’m more than happy to help out and facilitate that.”

Of course, with the live music, art shows and other events, the space provides opportunities to artists of all kinds to showcase their work and draw an audience, thanks to of Derpack of JCL Productions, who manages all the bookings. With events happening most nights of the week and including everything from diverse genres of music to story slams, poetry, art battles, pop-up restaurants and comedy, there’s something for everyone.

Having a welcoming, inviting space is important to the team, as evidenced by the full-service dinner available during shows, and the beverage options for non-drinkers — loose leaf tea is provided by nearby The Tea Girl, and coffee by newcomer Rogue Wave. These are very intentional partnerships that build a community of local businesses while also making guests’ experiences a little more comfortable.

“We don’t pretend that we’re experts in coffee and tea and beer and all these things but the people that are, we want them showcased and done right in our space,” says Krause.

Providing space to other entrepreneurs has given rise to collaboration as well. Recently, the Mercury Room paired with Blue Rose Bakery to do a vegan pop-up at the downtown location of Earth’s General Store. Truffula vegan cheese is also made in the building and is featured on the Mercury Room’s menu. If you’ve noticed a vegan theme in these offerings, it’s because the restaurants offers a vegan, low-gluten menu. Krause says he believes that a vegan menu is accessible to people with varying dietary styles. Anyone can eat vegan, and so everyone is welcome.

Mercury Room Edmonton
Photo by Josh Marcellin

This spirit of accessibility has been embraced by the neighborhood, as both the community league and the business association are strong supporters. “We couldn’t ask for a better neighborhood,” says Krause. Since the venue is only used in the evenings, the business association took advantage of that fact to host their AGM in the space. It takes the burden off event organizers because they don’t need to think about catering or service. Everything they need is already there.

In the midst of this support, Krause says that they’re looking for more ways to build a strong, sustainable business that will allow them to keep doing what they love. The dream is to take over the space adjacent to them in order to build a full-time restaurant. The current setup is only open for weeknight dinners, Saturday brunch, and food during shows, and the diverse needs of the events require that everything be constantly shifted around. With the news of the Artery’s sudden closure fresh in music lovers’ minds, the team wants to make sure that Edmonton doesn’t end up losing another arts space and music venue.

I asked Krause how he perceives the creative community in Edmonton: are people more likely to compete or to work together? Speaking from his experiences in the food scene, he says that, “Obviously it’s competitive, but there is a lot of co-operation and this sense of collective good. People seem to be realizing that everyone can benefit from helping each other, rather than just trying to knock each other off.” Krause and his partners embody that belief as they strive to create a space where creative passions can flourish, people can gather and be entertained, and collaboration can sprout.