RESTAURANT VETERANS TEAM UP FOR NEW VENTURE
|The partners behind one of K-W’s newest restaurants/bars are certainly an A-team of cuisine in the region. Loloan Lobby Bar (pronounced lo-lo-awn) is the creation of partners Paul Boehmer (above) of Bhima’s Warung, Renee Lees (below) and Josh Koehler, of the Starlight Club and Jane Bond (Lees no longer is associated with Jane Bond).
Boehmer is general manager of LoLoan Lobby Bar, which opened in March. Boehmer, Lees and Koehler are long-time friends and colleagues, who first met at the Circus Room. All have been running restaurants since the mid-1990s, and working in them since long before that. Boehmer’s experience has an international flavour – he has travelled extensively, and owned and operated a fine dining restaurant in Bali, Indonesia. That South East Asian influence is evident at Bhima’s Warung and now, at LoLoan Lobby Bar.
So after decades of independent experience and friendship, when Boehmer came to Lees and Koehler with an opportunity for a new venture, they decided the time was right. Despite their vast experience, the trio still did their homework. Boehmer says that the three travelled to South East Asia in January of 2017, “just to get to know each other better and get to know the region better. I wanted to take them to a couple of my old haunts, to show them where some of Chef Boehmer’s flavours come from.” The three spent a lot of time in brainstorming about the right name for the new venture.
But they returned from their trip without one. Boehmer’s brother suggested that he recycle the name of his Bali restaurant – LoLoan, an Indonesia word describing a deep pool of water where the river meets the ocean. His first reaction? “I have done that, and I’m not interested in doing that again.” However, that obviously is not the end of the story. During their eastern trek, Lees recalls, “We couldn’t afford to stay at any of the fancy hotels that we wanted to stay at, but we would go there and enjoy the lobby bars.” And that led to the conclusion that their new place would be a lobby bar – and at that point, it seemed obvious to combine the two, and LoLoan Lobby Bar was born. They had also considered the name “Tuk Tuk Lobby Bar,” and that has morphed into the name of their patio – Tuk Tuk Terrace.
The fare is described as “classic, timeless cocktails and lobby bar inspired South East Asian cuisine.”
That has been Boehmer’s passion for decades. He trained and worked with French cuisine for many years, but fell in love with South East Asian food. However, he recalls, “I would always play around with the flavours but never professionally. There was not a market for it. There were no Thai restaurants even in Toronto. I was the first Thai restaurant even in Ontario, I think.”
That has changed. He says, “In recent years we’ve been doing a lot more regional south East Asian cooking. There is a lot more knowledge around and people know so much more because of social media.”
Talking with the partners, it’s clear that they are delighted to be working together, and that they share a vision for something exciting. But even months after opening, the vision remains a bit flexible. Says Boehmer, “We’re just a baby here, so it’s really hard too say what the product will be going forward. For me, that’s where it’s starting: trying to take the flavours and put them in a way that will work in this concept. Because Bihma’s food doesn’t translate to this upscale fine dining, and so you have to do certain little things to make it fine dining.”
Lees adds, however, “LoLoan is fine dining, but we don’t want to scare people. They’re already scared of the menu being sort of strange to some people, they’re already afraid of walking in and wearing jeans, perhaps, so my ultimate goal is to make people feel welcomed, that it’s a formal place but that it’s not fuddy duddy, not uptight – warm and inviting. Because people do like to get dressed up and be fancy. It shouldn’t be because they have to it should be because they want to. It’s working.”
The details of the partnership are also a work in progress. Lees, who is Operating Manager, says, “We’re trying to figure out what we’re best at, and pull that out of each other. Paul is ultimately responsible for the place, he’s the General Manager.”
But all three have strong voices, they admit. Says Boehmer, “We’ve all run our own places for so long. But you have to be careful so it’s not confusing for the staff. They’ve got three bosses and they could here three different stories about the same thing. So our communication has to be very good.”
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