FOUR’S A CHARM: HOW TONY & ROB THEODOSIOU ARE PUTTING THEIR STAMP ON WATERLOO REGION’S COFFEE, BEER & CULINARY SCENE
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘It’s been an absolutely insane ride,’ remarks Tony Theodosiou over pints of Buggywhip IPA at ABE ERB in The Tannery. ‘But one that’s been as invigorating as it’s been exhausting.’
Not quite as exhausting today as it was when Tony and his brother Rob and their phenomenal team opened their first ABE ERB, mind you. ‘I didn’t get a day off for the first four hundred days we were in business,’ Tony continues. ‘I’ve had a few since,’ he allows. Then, after a pause: ‘albeit only a few.’
Since launching their first ABE ERB Brewing Company location (on King Street in Uptown Waterloo) in November 2014, the brothers Theodosiou have launched Settlement Co. Eatery & Coffee Roaster (December 2015, also on King Uptown), a second ABE ERB location (December 2016, in The Tannery in Downtown Kitchener), and a second Settlement Co. (March 2017, at King and Victoria Downtown).
Mind you, their plan wasn’t always about diving into the restaurant business so deep, and so soon. Indeed, Rob and Tony were quite content to hold fast for a while, at least, with their flagship (Waterloo) locations of ABE ERB and Settlement Co. That is, until the landlord at The Tannery came knocking.
‘After we’d opened our Waterloo establishments,’ Tony recalls, ‘we were content. The businesses were growing, and we were looking forward to reveling in them for at least a few years before starting work on something else.’ He continues: ‘We’d decided together that the only way we were opening a new place in the twin cities was if we could get into The Tannery.’ He reaches for his Buggywhip, takes a prolonged sip, and concludes, grinning: ‘And then we were invited to open a second ABE ERB at The Tannery.’
He looks right at me, a twinkle in his eye. ‘We simply couldn’t say no.’
And we should all thank our lucky stars they didn’t. Indeed, the Kitchener locations of ABE ERB and Settlement Co. are like the Waterloo locations – but on steroids. More spacious, and with the same luscious food and beer (at ABE ERB) and lighter fare and coffee (at Settlement Co.). Four locations from which to choose. To eat. To hold meetings and hang with friends. To feel satisfied. All grounded in Rob and Tony’s shared vision of providing Waterloo and Kitchener with wonderful culinary spaces that befit the region’s evolving reputation as a world-leading community.
It’s apparent as soon as you walk in the front door of either ABE ERB or Settlement Co. – at any of their locations – that you’ve entered an inspired space. ‘Both ABE ERB locations have been influenced by the look and feel of the craft beer scene in Vancouver and Toronto,’ Tony says. ‘Breweries like Brass Neck out West and Bellwoods much closer to home have guided our aesthetic, for sure.’ And while Settlement Co. is all about coffee, it seems to borrow from the same aesthetic handbook.
To be sure, while each location is unique, the similarities and cross-references in all four establishments point to their shared DNA rooted in Toronto’s Prototype Design Lab (or PD Lab) – an ‘anything is possible’ design firm that executed the interiors of Tony and Rob’s businesses. The result: a sort of over-the-top steampunk-meets-advanced technology aesthetic that’s simply mesmerizing – and manages to represent both Waterloo Region’s nineteenth-century industrial roots as well as its emergent role as global innovation hotbed.
And then there’s the businesses’ homage to the region’s rich Mennonite heritage. The name Settlement Co., for instance, that conjures up Waterloo’s first settlers – Mennonites who moved here from Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. And the beers at ABE ERB – most notably Buggywhip IPA – that invoke and reflect the heritage heart of the region. And, of course, the name ABE ERB itself, that celebrates Abraham Erb, the first of these pioneers: founder and – like Tony and Rob themselves – entrepreneur.