Owners of the Next Act pub bring vibrancy to Old Strathcona

Crystal Carwin Lee (@crystalcarwin) loves food, so she is working her way through The Tomato’s 2013 to 2015 lists of best places to eat or drink in Edmonton. Restaurant profiles will be posted on TLG, and you can find her review of the Next Act on her own blog.

Just off of Whyte Avenue on 104 Street sits the well-established the Next Act Pub. Opened in 1994 and frequented by the local theatre community, the restaurant really took off after new owners Saylish Haas, Nathan McLaughlin and Mike Rebalkin bought the place in 2010. Making the Tomato’s list of the top 100 best things to eat in Edmonton for 2013 and 2014, it became obvious that their fun take on pub food was a step in the right direction for these three entrepreneurs.

It was interesting to talk to Saylish about the steps that led to their purchase of an established eatery. She takes me back in time, telling me that Mike and Nathan have been friends since elementary. However, it wasn’t until high school that she met the two. At the end of 2009, Saylish was in need of a career change. Giving herself three months to figure something out, it was during this time that the trio’s enduring friendship led them on a trip to Mexico where they decided that they wanted to buy a restaurant. Right before her personal deadline expired, she quit her job, and within another few months, she, Nathan and Mike found themselves holding the keys to the Next Act.

While the transition sounds like it was quick and easy, Saylish says that it was a far bigger challenge than they expected. The main hurdle was money. No one wanted to help them by investing in their dream, but fortunately, they managed to scrape together enough on their own to convince the bank that they were deserving of a Canadian Small Business Finance Loan.

Next Act Pub food
Menu offerings at the Next Act Pub in Old Strathcona. Photos: Crystal Carwin Lee

Since then, they haven’t looked back. Part of their success comes from knowing who’s right for the task. Saylish and Mike share front-of-house responsibilities, and Nathan, a NAIT Red Seal cook with years of experience, keeps the the menu updated with fresh, quality comfort food done well. Saylish jokes that while she had never really imagined herself as an entrepreneur, she supposes it was inevitable; she’s always been a bit bossy. She also says that as someone who doesn’t even cook at home, owning a restaurant is an advantage because there’s always someone who can make something for her now.

Their playful, casual attitude is what makes the Next Act a favourite for Edmontonians. The trio puts a lot of pride and energy into their work, and their philosophy — “Do what you love and love who you spend your time with” — is followed quite literally. In the five years they have run the restaurant, they have seen a really small percentage of turnover with staff — an uncommon occurrence in the restaurant world. Many of their team members have worked there for two to three years and a few have even stuck with them since they took over.

The passion that they show every day is what they hope diners take away from their visit to the Next Act. But, it’s a two-way street. Saylish, Nathan and Mike love their job, but, if it wasn’t for the support of the Old Strathcona neighbourhood, they might not have the motivation that they do. Also, they say that witnessing the many new local and independent eateries that keep popping up throughout the city and seeing the success of those places makes them so excited to be a part of Edmonton’s current culinary scene.

What’s one of the best compliments the three can get? When they see other industry people in MEAT, sister restaurant to the Next Act and debuted to rave reviews in spring 2014. The reciprocal support between fellow restaurateurs is a favourite occurrence and something that serves to make the trio better restaurant owners.

It’s this type of give and take that makes the culinary community a unique one. Through setbacks and triumphs, they know they can count on other industry friends, patrons and the neighbourhood. They encourage their staff to give back in whatever way they can, too. Their main mantra? Shop local, eat local. It’s important to Edmonton’s ecosystem.