Story by Sarah Deveau
OTTAWA, ONTARIO – It’s been just over a year since the darling of Ottawa’s food scene, restaurateur Stephen Beckta, opened his third restaurant in the city, this time in the posh Westboro neighbourhood. Sister restaurants Play Food & Wine and Beckta have taken home their share of accolades, but gezellig may well prove to be the star of the bunch.
I met with Beckta on a dreary evening, shaking off the rain as I entered gezellig, a gorgeously appointed but homey restaurant in a converted 1950’s bank building. Deceptively youthful in appearance Beckta is affable and charming, and it’s easy to see why he’s well loved by the restaurant community, including his more than 100 staff members, and the children he spends time volunteering with at the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa.
Beckta began working in restaurants at the age of 13, and stayed in the business throughout travels in Europe and New York. In Holland he ran a 250-seat dinner theatre, and upon his return to Canada pursued his sommelier papers at Algonquin College. Not long after, he left Ottawa to visit a girlfriend in New York City and ended up working at Cafe Boulud for Daniel Boulud and eventually Danny Meyer in Eleven Madison Park. He returned to Canada after having met his future wife in Ottawa, moving back to marry and open his first restaurant, Beckta, in 2003. Play opened in 2009, and gezellig followed in 2012.
A Labour of Love for Beckta
“Opening a restaurant has to be a labour of love, because it is an extraordinarily difficult thing,” says Beckta. “Especially opening up number three because there are a lot of expectations. People expected us to be like Beckta but cheaper, or like Play doing small plates but just on the west end. Allowing this place to find its soul took about six months and it’s still developing but we’re still tweaking things.”
Beckta opened gezellig with partner and executive chef Mike Moffatt, both of them residents in the area. “We love Westboro and we wanted to give something back to the community. We loved the idea of a place that was cozy and warm and friendly, which is where the name gezellig came from. It’s a Dutch word and it is loosely translated to mean a cozy time spent with friends, and that’s what we hoped to help orchestrate in our dining experience. We want people to have the feeling they get when they enter someone’s home who cares for you deeply.”
Initially, the restaurant food was designed around the idea of comfort and simplicity, but that changed on customer demand. “When we first opened we were trying to make this a great neighbourhood spot, and people asked for more from us in that respect, because they knew we could deliver it. So over time our food has gotten more advanced, more involved, more inspired. The food is more sophisticated than we had planned for this restaurant, but that’s what people were asking for.”
They’re also asking for more Beckta restaurants, but he doesn’t have any immediate plans to open additional locations or to expand his empire outside of the Ottawa area. “Getting to three was about growing ourselves and helping the people who’ve been with us for so long have a place to grow as well. We’re settled a bit now, and enjoying what we have and the freedom it gives us to focus on taking what we do well and making it even better.”
MORE ABOUT GEZELLIG
Location: 337 Richmond Road, Ottawa, ON (see map below)
Menu Price Range: Most dinner entrees cost $25-$28, with the priciest item being a house-cured duck confit for $30.
More Vacay.ca Coverage: Read Janine Maclean’s article on Play Food & Wine.