‘Loyal Arby’s following’ awaits sandwich chain’s return to Winnipeg (Winnipeg Free Press)

March 19, 2024

Winnipeg will soon, once again, “have the meats.”

Roughly four years after the Arby’s fast food sandwich chain exited Manitoba, crews are erecting a building meant for its return this fall near the Seasons outlet mall.

“We’re very, very excited,” said Blair Forster, president of Forster Harvard Development Corp., which oversees the Seasons property in southwest Winnipeg.

The development group has been in discussions with the restaurant chain for the past two years, he said.

Arby’s — known for its roast beef sandwiches and its decade-long ad slogan “We have the meats” — formerly operated several locations in Winnipeg, including at Kildonan Place and CF Polo Park.

It will likely open multiple locations in Winnipeg over the next five years, company spokeswoman Larisa Zade wrote in an email Tuesday, declining to provide specifics.

Arby’s is re-entering Winnipeg because “fans have been requesting and eagerly awaiting the brand’s return,” Zade wrote, without immediately answering why the company initially left the province.

Its last Manitoba location (at Kildonan Place) closed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Builders are creating a roughly 2,200-square-foot space for the new Arby’s, with room for 40 seats, in the Tuxedo Industrials area.

The outlet mall (Outlet Collection Winnipeg) and its surrounding area has drawn new-to-Manitoba businesses for years (Firehouse Subs, StretchLab and Saks Off 5th among them).

Still, Forster said he has seen few garner as much anticipation as Arby’s.

Forster Harvard has received more information requests about the sandwich chain than most businesses it’s previously slated for the Seasons area.

“There’s obviously a loyal Arby’s following in the Winnipeg marketplace,” Forster stated.

He stayed mum on the development for more than a year as costs of construction and rent rose amid inflation.

“That in itself delayed the process a little bit, on finding an economic way to build the building and get to a rental rate that worked for both ourselves and the Arby’s team.”

“There’s obviously a loyal Arby’s following in the Winnipeg marketplace.”–Blair Forster

Forster said he ballparked a 35 per cent increase in construction costs from 2019 to 2024. Several new tenants are “wrestling” with projected sales volumes versus rental rates, he added.

“The deals are all happening, they’re just taking a little bit longer to gather in this environment.”

Michelle Ritchot is among those awaiting Arby’s return. Last year, her husband surprised her with a trip to Regina so she could enjoy her favourite fast food chain.

“I was pretty bummed when they closed,” Ritchot recalled in a Facebook message. “The curly fries are definitely what pulled me in when I was (a) kid.”

Anticipation has grown online, including with the circulation of construction progress pictures.

Neighbouring businesses, too, are hoping to see a foot traffic bump when Arby’s opens.

“It’s a handy thing … (that) they are coming over,” said Shahid Sadruddin, co-owner of D Spot Desserts. “We are getting free marketing.”

Alyssah Gard, an employee at St. Louis Bar & Grill, agreed: “A lot of people seem to be excited about it.”

Apathetic workers and customers at nearby shops, meanwhile, said they’d try Arby’s at least once.

“I honestly didn’t miss it,” Aansh Vaid said. “We have so many options right now for fast food.”

(Still, the bank employee expects to walk over for lunch.)

“It’s a handy thing… (that) they are coming over. We are getting free marketing.”–D Spot Desserts’ Shahid Sadruddin

Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc. rebranded as Inspire Brands in 2018 after acquiring Buffalo Wild Wings. Its sister brands include Baskin-Robbins (ice cream), Dunkin’ (doughnut chain) and Sonic.

Inspire Brands has been expanding Arby’s; the sandwich chain re-entered Mexico in 2020, after leaving decades earlier.

There’s no COVID-19 pandemic to hamper sales, people are “stepping out (and) trying new things” and Arby’s doesn’t seem to have local apples-to-apples competition, University of Manitoba marketing Prof. Sandeep Arora said.

“They might be thinking that this is a great time to go back into the market again,” said Arora. “I’m actually surprised that they moved out of Winnipeg because I don’t see that space being occupied by any other fast food restaurant.”

Arby’s has brand loyalty, Arora said, pointing to the so-called Arby’s Army in Ontario. This month, the group of 200 people gathered at an Arby’s in Oshawa, Ont., to eat sandwiches together. The trip was reportedly planned to protest a lack of an Arby’s location in Toronto.

Arby’s currently has 56 Canadian stores, and thousands more across six countries. The Atlanta-headquartered business was founded in 1964.

“Given the uniqueness of their positioning, I think they can do well (in Winnipeg),” Arora said.