Sideline turns into a tasty empire

Owning a bar was only supposed to be a moonlight job — something fun to do on the side. So no one is as surprised as Keith Jacobsen the he…

Owning a bar was only supposed to be a moonlight job — something fun to do on the side.

So no one is as surprised as Keith Jacobsen the he turned his Shenanigans into a small Whitehorse empire.

On Tuesday morning, he sat sipping a coffee at one of the chic black tables of Coasters Bistro — his latest entrepreneurial endeavour.

Young, unshaven and looking casual in a dress shirt as black as the furniture and coffee, Jacobsen gave the impression of being hip enough to own two bars and a bistro yet smart enough to actually make it work.

He ordered a turkey sandwich and explained how he went from investing in stocks and bonds to investing in food and beer.

Jacobsen was born and raised in Whitehorse and, other than a few brief vacations south and a two-month sailing trip from Halifax to Florida, hasn’t really bothered to leave.

“It’s kind of like Stockholm syndrome,” he joked.

“After a while you begin to sympathize with this place.”

At 20, Jacobsen began working with his father at Canaccord Capital.

Eventually he saved up enough money to buy the bar below the Town and Mountain hotel and named it Shenanigans.

 “It was a bit of a risk, but what the hell, it was only meant as a moonlight,” said Jacobsen.

“It’s a bit of an ego thing, buying your own bar — I mean, who doesn’t want to do that, right?”

However, the bar became increasingly popular and in September, when Whitehorse’s transient population tends to dwindle, business grew instead of tailing off.

Even with the growing support, the new business didn’t make a dime in its first year.

After a year, the lease was up.

Jacobsen changed the bar’s name to Coasters and moved it to its current location under the 202 Hotel.

The bar’s name came from a game called Coasters Shooters — an inventive way of picking one’s drink that isn’t for the meek of liver.

Three people line up at the bar and take turns throwing their coasters at the row of liquors.

A potent shot is then concocted by mixing the three liquors that the coasters hit — creating a devilish drink to shock and awe even the most seasoned drinker.

However, the bar’s change of venue also meant losing the large kitchen.

“Our kitchen manager was extremely talented. The man knew everything about running a restaurant, at least the kitchen side of things,” said Jacobsen.

“He was so talented that I couldn’t lose the guy.”

Jacobsen began looking around for a potential site for a restaurant and took over the lease at the Bistro’s current location on the corner of Wood Street and Third Avenue a year ago.

But Jacobsen and his crew weren’t able to get the joint open until about a month ago.

“It’s been a long road, I’ll tell ya,” he said looking at the window at the section of deck that had to be repaired after an overzealous liquor inspector proved that the deck was too weak by putting his foot through it.

“The building was completely empty and we needed everything — grills, ventilation systems, you name it.”

“When we took over in June we thought, OK let’s work really hard at this and have it open by July,” he continued.

“But opening a restaurant from scratch is a lot more work than you’d expect.”

By the time August rolled around, the work was still not done and the Bistro’s summer opening had to be postponed.

The restaurant opened its doors a month ago, but Jacobsen is still struggling with the liquor licences for the deck and backyard areas.

A grand opening is planned for as soon as these licenses are acquired, which may be as early as this Friday.

Jacobsen’s next project, a brewpub at the old Capital Hotel, is also going a little more slowly than anticipated.

He hopes that the new bar will revive and add to the Capital’s storied history.

“The past few years haven’t been that great for the Capital,” he said of the bar that once saw an angry mob charge in and threaten to forcibly remove its drug dealers.

“But there’s so much good history before that.”

A brewmaster from Yukon Brewing will be helping Jacobsen brew his beers.

The pub will offer a house ale, a house lager and a seasonal brew, which will allow the brewmaster to experiment with different recipes.

If he finds a particularly tasty brew, it may become the next line at Yukon Breweries.

“So it’s a great symbiotic relationship between the two of us.”

The brewpub should be open sometime this winter.

The two bars and restaurant are keeping Jacobsen busy enough so the empire won’t be expanding from there anytime soon.

“No, now that I’ve put so much of my resources into the Capital Hotel — because we actually bought the hotel as opposed to leasing it, and that’s a little bit pricey — so my resources are tapped out,” he said.

“So for the foreseeable future that’s what I’m going to focus on.”

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