New York City has always had about twenty passionate sports fans who follow professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey and proudly wear their Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Giants, Jets, Rangers caps. And they often gather at various sports bars to watch games.
But Denis Ladouceur, a Canadian and former chief operating officer of a Wall Street firm and transplanted New Yorker, felt the city lacked a primary meeting place: a dedicated sports bar for hockey fans. . In December 2021, he opened The Canuck on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea to appeal to the legion of New York-area hockey fans who follow the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New York Devils. Jersey as well as his fellow Canadians who are fans of the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leaf.
He said The Canuck appeals to a wide demographic, including “Canadians, city expats and visiting Canadians, hockey fans, sports fans and locals looking for a pub clean and friendly neighborhood”.
Although professional ice hockey is Canada’s national sport, Ladouceur noted that “Madison Square Garden has over 20,000 fans at every Rangers game.” Additionally, most sports bars favor baseball, football, and basketball over hockey.
“The city desperately needed a place where hockey was the first priority, on the big screens, where hockey fans could congregate and watch hockey together,” he said.
New York’s first hockey-focused sports bar generated word of mouth, drawing crowds to watch hockey games and establishing a niche, but loyal following.
When Ladouceur left his job in finance during the pandemic, the time was right to take the leap to fulfill his dream. With no restaurant experience, Ladouceur did his “homework” by meeting with a host of restaurant insiders to “better understand the costs, drawbacks, benefits and requirements associated with the industry.”
He wanted to open the hockey bar in Chelsea because of its proximity to Chelsea Piers and its ice rink. He says there are about 1,500 people involved in his amateur hockey league and many of them go to the Canuck for dinner or a beer, “almost every night,” he said.
He hired a catering consultant who pointed him in the right direction to hire the right staff, front and back of house, design the menu and identify the food vendors needed.
Memories of the Canuck transcend hockey and venture into Canadian culture. He pointed out that “there are many photos of iconic Canadians, Canadian sports moments where consumers can taste their Canadian beers and eat poutine (fries and cheese covered in gravy). Everyone orders poutine,” not just Canadians, he said.
He financed the opening of The Canuck with his own personal funds supplemented by investors who were friends and family.
The restaurant is 2,000 square feet, filled with twelve tables, accommodating 65 seats. The bar has 15 stools and there is outdoor seating with three or four tables, for eight to a dozen people.
Ladouceur says the menu specializes in burgers, club sandwiches and Caesar salads. It also offers several specialty cocktails such as the Caesar, the Canadian version of the Bloody Mary, made with Clamato juice instead of tomato juice and the Maple Old Fashioned, a classic whiskey but made with maple syrup.
The menu includes Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Chicken Tenders, Buffalo Chicken Wrap and Impossible Burger. Draft beers include a number of Canadian brands, including Labbatt Blue, Collective Arts, as well as American and Irish beers.
“We wanted the food to be appropriate for a Canadian pub. I don’t want to recreate agrifood but offer simple, quality food,” he explains.
Business exploded in late May and early June when the hometown New York Rangers made the playoffs, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes before falling in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had won the last two Stanley Cups. “The bar was at full capacity for every Rangers playoff game and the energy from the crowd and the games was incredible,” he said.
Ladouceur used a variety of strategies to publicize the Canuck opener, including targeted ads on designated Canadian groups on Facebook and Instagram and sponsorship of local hockey teams near Chelsea Piers.
When the pro hockey season ends in late June, he plans to host events such as birthday parties and work parties, weekly trivia nights that will bring regulars in, up until the next National Hockey League season begins in the fall.
He expects the summer to be slower, though he also envisions Yankee, Mets and Blue Jay fans keeping the bar open. It introduced brunch on Saturday and Sunday and added more outdoor tables.
When I visited The Canuck on the night of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the joint was popping. Ladouceur gears up for the crowd of hockey fans, dressed in a Moosehead Brewery t-shirt and looking relaxed but busy.
The bar is strewn with Canadian and hockey memorabilia with photos of Canadian-born celebrities like Celine Dion, Martin Short, John Candy and William Shatner, and hockey cards for the 1994 Rangers team, its most recent winning team of the Stanley Cup.
He estimates that about 20% of his clientele is Canadian. “Canadians come through, see the flag and have to stop, and there are more Canadians in the neighborhood than you might think,” he said.
When asked if he will be showing the Yankees game that night, Ladouceur replied, “We’re a hockey bar, so it’s going to be the Stanley Cup on all the screens. The Yankees will have to wait until the official end of the NHL season.
He said the keys to his future success are “consistency, making sure we maintain the quality of our food and retaining our staff, because of the vibe and energy they create”.
Ladouceur works hard but has fun during his first six months as the owner of the city’s first exclusive hockey bar. “I want it to embody the Canadian spirit, to be a Canadian bar so that when Canadians dine out, they feel at home,” he explained.