WISK white logo-> All episodes <-

April 18, 2024

S1E1 - What it takes to go from Bartender to Owner with Kevin Demers - Owner of The Coldroom, EL PEQUEÑO BAR & The Parliament

On this episode we chat with Kevin Demers, owner of The Coldroom, EL PEQUEÑO BAR and Parliament.Kevin is best known for his popular speakeasy.

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WISK white logo-> All episodes <-

April 18, 2024

S1E1 - What it takes to go from Bartender to Owner with Kevin Demers - Owner of The Coldroom, EL PEQUEÑO BAR & The Parliament

On this episode we chat with Kevin Demers, owner of The Coldroom, EL PEQUEÑO BAR and Parliament.Kevin is best known for his popular speakeasy.

Apple Podcast player linkSpotify Podcast player linkGoogle Podcasts player link

Show notes

Episode Notes

In this episode of Wisking It All, host Angelo Esposito interviews Kevin Demers, owner of The Cold Room, El Pequeno Bar, and Parliament in Montreal. They discuss the passion and inspiration behind Kevin's journey in the hospitality industry, from starting as a bartender to becoming a successful bar owner. Kevin shares his experiences working in the industry, the challenges of owning a bar, and the importance of creating a unique and memorable customer experience. He also talks about his latest project, a retail beer store, which was born out of the need to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Hospitality professionals often enter the industry out of passion and love for the craft.
  • Owning a bar requires a deep understanding of business, including costing, inventory, administration, and hiring.
  • Creating a unique and memorable customer experience is crucial for the success of a bar.
  • The hospitality industry provides opportunities for personal growth and advancement, but it's important to find mentors and invest in oneself.
  • Adapting to challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, requires creativity and diversification of business strategies.


00:00 Introduction and Background

05:05 Combining Entrepreneurship and Storytelling

10:16 Transitioning from Bartender to Bar Owner

16:23 Creating a Unique and Memorable Customer Experience

27:46 Parliament: Celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism

32:05 Diversifying Business Strategies During COVID-19


Visit Kevin Demers website!

Connect with Kevin Demers via Linkedin!

Learn more about The Cold Room!

Learn more about El Picano Bar!


Angelo Esposito [00:00:06]:

Welcome to whisking it all with your host, Angelo Esposito, co-founder of WISK.ai, a food and beverage intelligence platform. We're going to be interviewing hospitality professionals around the world to really understand how they do what they do, from chefs to owners, mixologists to bar managers, you name it. We want to provide you guys with a ton of value, anything hospitality related. Today we're here with Kevin Demers from Montreal, owner of the cold Room, El Picano bar, and Parliament. Kevin, thank you for being here.

Kevin Demers [00:00:48]:

Thank you so much for having me.

Angelo Esposito [00:00:50]:

Of course, of course. So, as a quick background, I mean, you know, you and I both from Montreal, we. We often run into each other at, you know, events, whether it's, you know, tales in New Orleans or, you know, conferences in Toronto. So I think. I think that's kind of the premise of the show, right? The same way we run into each other and we kind of have these one on one talks and sometimes, you know, group talks with other hospitality professionals. And the idea behind Wisking It All was, how can we do that? But maybe at scale, right? How can we kind of share some of those little nuggets of information that you sometime have at these events, but with the world? So that's kind of the idea. And I appreciate you being here.

Kevin Demers [00:01:26]:

I appreciate it. Thank you.

Angelo Esposito [00:01:27]:

No, of course. One of the first things I love to start off with at the podcast is kind of the how, right. So, like, unlike other professions, most hospitality professionals get into it really for the passion, right? Whether it's a restaurant, a bar, any type of venue, it's really a lot of passion, and typically it comes from working in the industry. So I love to learn the how. Like, how did you get started? How long ago, you know, before you were an owner? Like, what were you doing in hospitality? And maybe. Yeah, walk me through that.

Kevin Demers [00:01:52]:

That's a story. I got into hospitality when I was about just turning 18. I knew zero of alcohol. I don't come from a family that drinks. My father doesn't drink a lick. He's never drank anything in his life. And my mom, a glass of wine here and there. So me getting into that just didn't make any sense to anybody.

Kevin Demers [00:02:13]:

And then I made a decision when I was about that age because I was a really shy kid, and I was basically like, I want to make some money. I know that there's a lot of money to be made in this industry, but I can't approach people. So I just, like, I can't be a waiter. Like, I can't just go up this to a table. I'm really uncomfortable with it. So I ended up applying for a bartender position at Thursday when it was around and when it was still a thing. And lo and behold, I got the job, but through, like, a favor from a friend of mine, starting as a bus boy and then a bar back here and there. I got teased with having the opportunity to be a bartender, but it was legit, old school, OG bartenders.

Kevin Demers [00:02:58]:

Half the guys were over 50 years old, teaching me how to bartend. So I really got to learn, like, what it was like to be a bartender back in, like, the eighties, just like this, like, psychopath. Just a complete animal atmosphere. But it showed me. It showed me a lot that a lot of people, like, in this generation, don't really have, which is, it's not about the actual cocktails and. Or the food itself. It's really about the service and the interaction between client and whether it's a bartender or a waiter.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:25]:

Right, right.

Kevin Demers [00:03:26]:

And it's.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:26]:


Kevin Demers [00:03:26]:

It's really a dying art. This is just my opinion, that connection in between client and bartender and. Or client and. And waiter, whatever it is, like service professional, if you want.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:35]:


Kevin Demers [00:03:36]:

And. Yeah. So I ended up starting there in my. My career, but at the same time, that was just as sort of my side job while I was in school and while I ended up playing professional hockey for a little bit in my early twenties.

Angelo Esposito [00:03:52]:

I love how. That's just a side note. How are you playing professional hockey and working as a bartender super late at night?

Kevin Demers [00:03:57]:

It sucked. It was the worst thing ever. Well, I quit when I was about 1516 and got back into it, and I was like, 1819. I just wanted to prove to myself that I still. I could have made it professionally.

Angelo Esposito [00:04:09]:


Kevin Demers [00:04:10]:

Because at that time, it's like my. My road was kind of paved to go pretty high up there in the professional world, and I just sort of, like, gave it all up kind of thing, decided to start replaying, not really thinking that I was going to play professionally, and ended up playing, like, minor pro for almost two years and just prove to myself that I still could play. And I just said, you know what? I'm content with proving that to myself. I don't need to prove anything else and I can move on with my life. But it really transitioned into something else, which was, I went to UCLA for writing for film and television.

Angelo Esposito [00:04:42]:

Okay, and that's a left turn.

Kevin Demers [00:04:44]:


Angelo Esposito [00:04:45]:

I didn't know that about you.

Kevin Demers [00:04:47]:

That is actually just because of hockey. Like, when I would have my days off. I didn't hated reading so I ended up just starting to write randomly and it just built into writing for film and tv and yeah, and the whole time I was always bartending, so bartending was always there for me. Lo and behold, in. When was this? What is it? Nine years ago now. I started a company which was called Humphreys. It was a bowtie company. Well, it was bow tie men's accessories if you want.

Kevin Demers [00:05:18]:

Again, like the entrepreneur in me slowly was coming out and the storytelling definitely helped and that's why I like the idea of storytelling mixed in with entrepreneurship. Like, I'm huge on that and how important it is, big time. And yeah, it was an e commerce store. E commerce store didn't do extremely well, which is fine, but the story was really strong. But that led me into this path of a friend of mine asked me to start working at a place called Santos in the old port or in old Montreal, excuse me, to work under him. And he got invited for a competition, which was the Bombay most imaginative bartender and he didn't want to do it at that time. It was a private invitation. So there's only twelve bartenders in Montreal.

Kevin Demers [00:06:03]:

I wasn't really considered a well known mixologist, but I was considered a very strong bartender. You know, they used that vernacular back then. And he came to see me and he goes, listen, if I can, this is Justin Sabini, it's a good buddy of mine that shout out to Justin, he basically just goes, listen, I'm not really down to do it, but if you're interested, I'll see if you can do it because I know you're gonna do really well. It's, it's kind of your style to do things like that, to like build a story and stuff. And it was my first competition, I knew nothing of anything. So I was like, you know what, I'll give it a go. We'll see what happens. Lo and behold, I ended up winning regionally that year, which pissed off a lot of people because they're like, who is this guy?

Angelo Esposito [00:06:45]:

And now he's winning.

Kevin Demers [00:06:46]:

Well, like they all, like all these bartenders heard of me but they never thought I would get into it. So it was kind of one of those things like stay in your lane. Like it's, yeah, just like at that point it was more or less like a club bartender if you want to, if you want to label it. Right, right. So yeah, I ended up going to Vegas and seeing what basically a $15 cocktail can get me. I was like, this is fucking insane. Like, I get, like, all expenses paid, Vegas staying at the whim stay. Like, it doesn't make any sense.

Kevin Demers [00:07:14]:

Like bartending for Victoria's Secret models and things like that. And I'm just like, this makes zero sense, that's all. And, yeah, I ended up, I was like, okay, I gotta get into this. I ended up doing that competition again for another year. And it was only that competition I wanted to do just to prove to, like, the city that I can win it again. And lo and behold, I ended up winning a second time. But this time I won all of Canada. I almost ended up winning globally.

Kevin Demers [00:07:42]:

And the thing is with that competition is that in that time, if you won, you got the COVID of GQ magazine.

Angelo Esposito [00:07:48]:

No way.

Kevin Demers [00:07:49]:

I swear to God. I have the magazines. I'm in two of the two of the spreads in like two years, back to back.

Angelo Esposito [00:07:54]:

That's a pretty big feed. Wow.

Kevin Demers [00:07:57]:

Yeah, it's pretty. Like, honestly, it's really fucking cool. And what's even cooler is that the people that I connected with internationally, these are still people that are friends of mine today and people that I'm trying to work with now in the future. The connections that I got to make over just those two competitions were humongous worldwide.

Angelo Esposito [00:08:15]:

I can only imagine because even when, you know, we go to this sometimes these conferences or, you know, I'll take New Orleans and tales as an example. It's like I was blown away with. I don't think people realize how small, I mean, how big, but yet how small the hospitality world can be, right? Like, you see bartenders and owners and whatever from Miami chatting with people from Montreal and Toronto and, you know, Vegas crew and like, I'm looking at this and I'm like, wow. Like, it's, you know, it's all in North America, but yet, like, everyone kind of knows each other to a certain extent and, oh, man, I've been fortunate.

Kevin Demers [00:08:45]:

Enough to go to some really cool places because of bartending around the world and then some of my own, like, personal travels around the world. I've gotten to stay in unbelievable places. I've gotten to meet unbelievable people. I've gotten to have amazing tours of different cities or cultures or whatever it is because of, because of bartending. And I always, I always revert it back to because of a $15 cocktail, meaning just like the, how much it would actually genuinely cost for a cocktail to be made that we're making for competitions. Like, the average price is about $15 that we're selling it at. So I always base it off of that. It's like a $15 cocktail has gotten me free trips.

Kevin Demers [00:09:29]:

Open all these hotels and this and that and. Exactly. And open an insane amount of doors. Love it.

Angelo Esposito [00:09:35]:

I love it. And so one of the. I want to take it back just for a second because, I mean, I love. I love where this is heading. And I think one thing you touched upon is, you know, in the early days, learning from other bartenders and kind of getting that experience. What are. How did you go from, you know, being a bartender, you know, working your way up? And I think definitely this is a key part of the story, right? Like, getting these competitions, getting some recognition. How'd you go from that, then saying, you know what? I want to own my own place.

Angelo Esposito [00:10:00]:

I want to start my own place, you know, like, how did that transition happen?

Kevin Demers [00:10:04]:

That came up when I was. In all honesty, I was looking for a location for about six years. Oh, rough estimate. Again, I didn't have money at the time. I didn't understand business as a whole. You know, I didn't go to business school or anything like that. So everything that I've gotten up to this point has all been learning, you know, on the fly, basically. But it's something that I've always wanted to do because I would see these places that I would work at or places that I went to, and I just told myself, I was like, I know I can do better than this space or this boss or whatever it is.

Kevin Demers [00:10:34]:

And wherever I was working, a lot of the times, I can. I can put up with a lot of shit and a lot of whatever kind of abuse it is, like, verbal or anything like that from a. From a superior. But at one point, I was just like, yeah, I can do this better than these idiots, like, not hating on anyone. But it's just. It's come to that point where it's like, in the hospitality industry, one thing that's kind of lacking, especially, is, like, clientele. It's like, people always ask you something, oh, what's your other job? And it'd be nice that the hospitality industry would turn around and make it feel like it's a big corporation where it's like, you can start as a bus boy or, like, dish pit and work your way up to being an owner or a business owner of some, you know, some shape or form. And a lot of times what ends up happening is these owners, basically.

Kevin Demers [00:11:24]:

It's not everybody. I'm not. I'm not saying everyone as a whole, but a lot of them end up seeing a key person and using and abusing them to the point where they're just burnt out. And this has happened to me often, where it's like, well, I love a piece of the pie because I'm here literally every day, and I work extra for nothing. Like, I don't ask for extra. I don't ask for a raise. It's. I come from a hockey background, sports background, where it's, you know, your work will be acknowledged.

Kevin Demers [00:11:49]:

If you're working hard enough, you'll move up from the third line to the second line. So I use that mentality in the corporate mentality or the corporate world where it's, you know, if you're that strong, you'll be acknowledged, and you'll get a little something in return. And that's one thing that I find is very difficult in the industry, at least in Montreal, from what I've seen. I just, you know, wanted to make my own path. I was like, you know what? I'm tired of this, and I'm gonna work my ass off to have my own. Finally, by complete randomness, well, the story of cold room is a whole other conversation, but, like, just to get that space was serendipitous. If you want, like, everything kind of, the stars aligned magically. It was unbelievable.

Angelo Esposito [00:12:32]:

That's awesome for people listening. Like you said, they come from the passion, right? And I think that's a super important base, whether it's from bartending or, you know, being on the. On the food side of things and then working their way up. And some of them want to open their own spot. But I think one of the things that, as you kind of alluded to, is they don't maybe fully understand what's ahead of them on the business side. So obviously, it's. It's going to be impossible to give a full crash course right now. But I'd love to maybe chat about what are some things you didn't expect, you know, on the business side, you know what I mean? Like construction, hiring.

Angelo Esposito [00:13:01]:

Yeah, everything, right?

Kevin Demers [00:13:03]:

Like, look, I'll put it to you this way, okay. I was completely by myself. I didn't necessarily have mentors around me. I had people that wanted shares to the business that obviously didn't exist, but they saw opportunity and tried to jump on it without putting any effort into it. And I got extremely lucky with my landlord, Rick Kahana, who was the owner of, my goodness, Lusin de Spaghetti, which might sound like nothing to anyone, but it's an establishment that's been open over 35 years and well recognized in the area in old Montreal. And this guy grilled me just to get the lease and like, made me feel about like that big, but really put me in my place and I really understood. And, you know, I went to him for advice a few times, which I don't think is heard of. I don't hear anyone talk positively about landlords.

Kevin Demers [00:13:57]:

It's rare. And I went to him for so much business advice at the time where he could have really screwed me over because I didn't understand certain business terminologies and little things like that, and especially with leases, he really didn't. He guided me and put me in a really interesting path. And then I met another friend of mine who's also a partner of mine, Benny Bello, who owns Bellow Deli in old Montreal as well. That also guided me into business. And it was all little things like the rest I figured out myself. But there's just so many details that you just don't think about on the backside of things that people forget. And that's the funny part, is the transition between a bartender or a manager, even to a bar owner, is, it's night and day, you know, you have to understand costing, you have to understand inventory, you have to understand administration, you have to understand permitting, you have to understand down to like, the smallest thing, like hiring is a whole other thing, you know, you have to understand if you have to have pest control coming in to make sure that you don't have any kind of infestation and it could be anything.

Kevin Demers [00:15:04]:

You have to hire somebody for your beer lines to make sure they're clean. You have to hire, like, the list goes on. Something is always breaking every week. So there's, there's a lot of small details that a lot of people forget about or don't even realize that it's there. And, you know, as a sole business owner, it's very. It's a lot. It's, it's, it's a lot, but it's something that I pride myself in because a lot of people, and it's. I'm the kind of guy that I don't have the money to hire a million and one people.

Kevin Demers [00:15:34]:

I don't come from a financially sound family, and it's, it's no offense to my family at all. It's. I can't turn around and ask for, you know, $100,000 to start up a business from anyone in my family. As hard as it is, it's also extremely rewarding because I came from next to $0 to my, to my name personally. And you know, here we are about five years later.

Angelo Esposito [00:16:00]:

Yeah. And I think that's one of the things that I personally, like, really love about hospitality. And it's kind of, you know, one of the reasons we got into this, the business of Wisc as a whole. But even just this podcast, it's kind of like you mentioned, it's. There's so many little things that have to add up, and you essentially have to put everything on the line. And even at that, you're not guaranteed anything. Because then it's point. The customer experience is the music right? Is the food right? Is the lighting right? You know, you got to touch all the senses.

Angelo Esposito [00:16:28]:

Right? And that's not even talking about the million things you spoke about before, which might be location and staff and list goes on. And so I think that's what's so magical. At the end of the day, you're trying to create this unique experience for a guest, but they don't, you know, they just see the last mile. They don't see the 99 miles before. And in a way, I think that's what's so special. There's so many things that need to go right for that customer to be like, wow, this place is super cool. Or, you know, I had a great experience. Or you have to check this place out, right?

Kevin Demers [00:16:56]:

That falls into, like, a funny convo of just. I call it, like the a to z. Basically, the moment they leave, if they drove, the moment they leave their car to the moment they enter their car when they leave to the moment, basically they walk into when they leave, every little thing has to be just completely on point and including, like. And it sounds silly, but an old mentor of mine mentioned that to me one time. They go, your client could have one of the best nights of their life get to their car and have a parking ticket. And that parking ticket will ruin everything, and they'll never come back to your business.

Angelo Esposito [00:17:27]:

That's a good point.

Kevin Demers [00:17:28]:

Yeah. And it's wild to think that it's true. The smallest thing can affect the experience completely for any client, and it could be right outside of your business.

Angelo Esposito [00:17:37]:

Yeah. It's funny, I remember reading about this concept years ago, but, I mean, it's essentially what we're talking about. And the terminology they use was moments of truth. And it was like, how many moments of truth to get this total experience? Like you said, it could be from parking to how you get greeted by the host or hostess, to the cleanliness of the place to the music playing in the background, right? Like. And every little single point is a moment of truth. And what makes the ultimate experience at the end is the series of moments of truth. It's not just one, but it's a series. And that's what I find, you know, is super important because one of the things you mentioned earlier on, which I couldn't agree more, is some of the best nights I had personally, I remember, were a big part.

Angelo Esposito [00:18:15]:

You know, there were many moments of truth, but a big moment of truth was the staff. And to your point, some of the best nights I had was when the staff was, like, super friendly. You know, maybe you have a.

Kevin Demers [00:18:25]:

You bought.

Angelo Esposito [00:18:26]:

You end up buying them a shot or something. You end up kind of building this rapport and, like, just having such a good time. And yes, the food was good and drinks were good and all those other things, but that experience and that human interaction just kind of makes all the difference. Right?

Kevin Demers [00:18:39]:

Yeah. It's funny because that cold room, that's kind of one of our major things because a lot of bartenders or waiters, they got that kind of stigmatized with that whole. There's no personality in these quote unquote mixologists. So with the whole doorbell idea. So you have to ring the doorbell to get in because the bartender or waiter answering the door, they have about 30 seconds once they answer the door to. Once they actually bring you to your table. Maybe a bit more than that, about 45 seconds to just talk to you. And that small connection has made the difference between our location versus anyone else's location and how.

Kevin Demers [00:19:20]:

How well connected it is and how you're more personable it is to the client because they're like, oh, my God, like, the guy that's serving me is answering the door right now. So it's like, we're welcoming you into our home. It's almost like a lost art now. It's a little different, but when I grew up, it's, you know, somebody answering the door. It's, you know, we'd answer the door and, hey, guys, how are you? Now it's a little different. Somebody rings the bell. You're just, like, paranoid. But it's bringing that sort of nostalgic concept back of you're ringing someone's doorbell to get into their home.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:48]:

Yeah. It's funny because in a more general sense, the doorbell is a great example. You used to hear the doorbell and was like, great, we got visitors. Everyone's excited. And now you hear the doorbell and you're like, did anyone. Is anyone expecting someone?

Kevin Demers [00:20:01]:

No one texted me, what's going on here?

Angelo Esposito [00:20:03]:

Yeah. And it's funny because it's almost kind of gone as far as the actual cell phone. Right before it was like, just pick up the phone and call me. Now it's kind of like, why is this person calling me? Just text me. And it's kind of this extra wall almost in between. You know, that human interaction. Part of the idea with this podcast is really to share some of, you know, not only your experiences, but really share your creation. So I'd love to briefly just talk about like, the passion, inspiration just behind cold room, chat a little bit.

Angelo Esposito [00:20:28]:

And you'll also mention a bit behind El Paqueno, which I think is pretty unique, and you'll mention why and then maybe just a bit about parliament to kind of give our listeners a sense of what inspired you and what it's all about.

Kevin Demers [00:20:39]:

Well, cold room was the first, and cold room was really, and like I said, a six, almost like a six year search. And then I finally found a location that I liked and I legitimately called the landlord, my now landlord, about argument's sake, about eight months every, if it wasn't every week, it was every second day, just to tell them, like, I want the space, I want the space, I want the space. And then eight months later, he finally agreed to it. And then it took me twelve months to build the space because the agreement between him and I was, I'm going to give you a ridiculously insane rent that you're never going to find, but you're going to have to build out the space. It was kind of a win for me if I could get the space built, but the problem is I didn't have the financing behind it. So to actually get it built, I had to do most of it myself. So that space was a labor of love completely.

Angelo Esposito [00:21:33]:

Oh, wow. So you literally were in there.

Kevin Demers [00:21:35]:

Kind of name something in the space. I most probably, if I didn't build it, I helped building it. Just an example. I'm not a colder man now. I'm actually in parliament. But if you notice on the back right, right here, that's like all stone. That's basically what you find in all over Montreal. I had to clean those out.

Kevin Demers [00:21:53]:

It was about a 22 foot wall, 9ft. I had to clean it out with a small picking a hammer. It took me about four weeks. And at that time, to save budget, I had a small heater that was just keeping me warm. But we're talking like a small heater that you can get a canadian tire for like $90. Yeah, because I didn't have the baseboard heaters weren't even installed. Like, I had to wait. And it was -40 weather inside of a basement bar that used to be an old cold room back in the day.

Kevin Demers [00:22:22]:

So the idea of the bar itself, originally, it was a cold room that was supplying ice and fresh vegetables for the square Jacques Cartier, which is right next door. And I just went, you know what? Let's stick with that theme. Let's go with cold room. And originally we were going to go, like, all out and do everything pickled and fermented, different items and this and that, and it just. We got hit with a bomb as soon as we opened, like, the space did. Well, basically, the first day that I opened, we just almost couldn't even. We almost couldn't even catch up just to, like, the popularity of the space. And I'm not saying that to brag at all.

Kevin Demers [00:23:02]:

It's just, I don't know what, how, where, how it worked out. But again, like, the stars aligned and just everything worked out in our favor.

Angelo Esposito [00:23:12]:

Speaking of stars, I mean, that one thing that I love about cold room is just, it's super low key. It's, you know, old Montreal. You see this kind of like, back alley door walk, you know, walk inside. You get, like you said, you get greeted, you gotta ring the doorbell. But I think it's pretty cool that even certain celebrities found it, you know, cool enough. And certain stars, I think it's amazing all the work you've put in. So why not share just some celebrities that have had the pleasure of having some cocktails at cold room?

Kevin Demers [00:23:37]:

Well, funniest story for me is I was a big sons of Anarchy fan. And White Buffalo, it's a band. If you know White Buffalo, they're the guys who sing the main, main song, the theme song. They were in town, and I, at the time, my cell phone was the cold room line. So anytime somebody would call, it would always be me answering the phone. And so most of the time, people, oh, is Kevin there? No, he's not there. It was my phone. They ended up calling and they go, yeah, is there any space? Like usual, I give the typical line.

Kevin Demers [00:24:07]:

Unfortunately, we don't take reservations. They go, well, you know, we're only in town for one night. We're a band. And at the time I was with. I was at Joe Beef with Pietro Calina, which is the beverage director of the Nomad Hotel and eleven Madison park, who's an unreal guy. We were at Joe Beef and we were both sitting there. I invited him up for a conference that we were holding and lo and behold, we ended up getting free tickets to the show, which was basically an hour later. And then right after that, went to the back with the band, and then we went to go to the bar after that with the band.

Kevin Demers [00:24:46]:

Like, it was just weird.

Angelo Esposito [00:24:47]:

That's pretty cool experience.

Kevin Demers [00:24:48]:

Really a cool night because I was like, man, I love these guys. So it was fun. Christina Aguilera came a few times. She's just amazing. An amazing human being.

Angelo Esposito [00:24:57]:

Can you share her? Go to drink? What was the cocktail, you guys?

Kevin Demers [00:25:00]:

Oh, she was just, nah, she didn't even have one. She goes, just make me anything fun. Like, that was it. What was cool, and I really appreciated it is that we saved like a sort of a corner booth for. And she got up and she went to the bar and sat at the bar and just started talking to, I believe, the couple that was next to her. They were from Alberta. And she was just like, hey, guys, how are you? And just talking like you're just a regular Joe. Like, just a buddy.

Kevin Demers [00:25:23]:

How are you? And it's like something to me that definitely is going to mark somebody and be like, wow, that was such a cool night. And she's not the only one. Kenny G came in and started buying, like, beers for everybody. Like, just one person at a time, just buying beers. Ben Stiller, really cool guy. Just drinking tequila straight. Owen and Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell. Like, the list really goes on.

Angelo Esposito [00:25:48]:

Okay. Wow.

Kevin Demers [00:25:49]:

Yeah, it's been really, really cool. Like, the people that actually have come to the bar, the people that we've gotten to receive and gotten to cater to has been something in itself and something that I definitely would have never believed would have happened if you would have rewound and told me that during construction.

Angelo Esposito [00:26:04]:

Right, right. And I think that's the magic of it. Right? Like, starting from nothing, putting your sweat and tears into it and then getting to a point where, you know, it's busy, it's popular, and now you got, you know, like you said, christina Aguilera sitting there or Ben Stiller. And I think in many respects, like, you know, just big kudos to you because hospitality is a really tough industry and, yeah, a lot of passion goes into it. So I love hearing about these success stories.

Kevin Demers [00:26:26]:

You know, at the end of the day, Coldwell was really simple. We didn't have any speakeasies, per se. It was like, starting came to be. It was like, how am I going to promote this bar? It's a bar in a basement with, like, no real entrance. So we came up with just leave the door as is, have a doorbell and promote it that way. And the idea was just to have a really strong brand, which is the rubber duck that with the x in the eye, that basically, if I walk around with that jacket, everyone knows the duck just like that, as its own brand itself. And that logo actually comes from the Montreal police, which was the nightlife police, uh, back in the sixties.

Angelo Esposito [00:27:01]:

Okay, I didn't even know that. That's pretty cool.

Kevin Demers [00:27:02]:

Well, it was the gang squad that developed into nightlife police, and we just modernized the logo. And the theme behind it was we were going to take the nightlife by storm because that was their motto at the time. So ours was that, but in a hospitality approach. And the idea itself was just changing the way hospitality is treated, not just with clients, but with your staff, with your employees, with how you can get them to go from a busboy to a bar owner, if that's really their.

Angelo Esposito [00:27:29]:

Goal, or I think now I see where your storytelling background came in. That's a pretty cool. No, that's awesome. Like, how that logo came about, I didn't even know that. I'd love to just maybe touch on two quick things and then I know you also have El Paino in parliament, so. El Paino, I'd love to just share your quick story on that, because if I'm not mistaken, it's the smallest cocktail bar in Canada.

Kevin Demers [00:27:50]:

From what I know, it's the smallest in Canada. I don't know if it's the smallest in North America, but that's what we've been told.

Angelo Esposito [00:27:57]:

How small we talking? I mean, I've been there.

Kevin Demers [00:27:59]:

But for our listeners, 147 sqft. So it's basically the size of like a standard bathroom. One bartender working the concept itself. El pequeno means the small in the spanish translation. So el pequeno bar means the small bar in Spanish. And the idea was introduce rum to the Montreal community. But also the other angle was because we're in a very touristy area, more specifically for Americans, and Americans love cuban rum, they can't get cuban rum in the States, obviously, because of the conflict with Cuba. So we said, let's just push that idea and go from there and see where it takes us.

Angelo Esposito [00:28:39]:

And that's awesome. So how many people fit in at the same time?

Kevin Demers [00:28:44]:

Same time? Legally, it's nine. That's including the bartender, so technically eight. And yeah, it's actually funny. The first week that we opened, the cops came by and they were, you have ten people in here. And I was inside and they started laughing. Like, you have ten people in here. So I stepped outside, and they're like, okay, you're good now. And I was like, okay.

Kevin Demers [00:29:05]:

But, yeah, the idea itself was really, we make it look like an old Havana hotel bar, and we just pushed that Havana theme. So the only thing that's kind of not Havana is the Cubano sandwich, which is Miami. But it was something, to me that was important to have because it's good to always have an item of food just to, like, munch on. And I actually went to Miami with a very good friend of mine, Nick Villalon, who used to be the brand ambassador for McAllen. Now he's a lot higher up. So we ended up going, like, two weeks and eating, basically, Cubanos in Florida, in Miami, and drinking McAllen for, like, two weeks.

Angelo Esposito [00:29:41]:

That's awesome. That sounds like a pretty good trip.

Kevin Demers [00:29:43]:

Hard life. Hard life, yeah.

Angelo Esposito [00:29:45]:

And then your latest project was parliament, but now you're working on something new. So maybe just real quick, tell us a bit about parliament. Inspiration behind that, and then love to hear about your newest top secret project.

Kevin Demers [00:29:57]:

What I like about old Montreal is that each. Each building has a story, or each street has a story. And I'm trying to just tell those, like, montreal stories and themes or bring some kind of story to a space. I think it's important to make people feel like they're getting transported somewhere. Like, to me, a space feels like a never ending movie scene, and that movie scene should always be on loop every day. What's fun about Parliament is that it's actually in front of the original canadian parliament that actually got burned down in 1849 by the english loyalists. Well, english loyalists, big thing. I went to the museum and had a long conversation with, like, the.

Kevin Demers [00:30:36]:

The head of the museum and stuff like that, and a few of the archaeologists, just to really be on point with the whole story. And I don't make any big mistakes because of the french english conflict in Quebec, which still exists today. So we went the direction of just telling the story of parliament and how celebrating Canada, not necessarily Quebec or Montreal, but celebrating being canadian. And what is being canadian? Multiculturalism. It's not just one culture. It's a mix of everything. So we push, you know, the english theme. Yes, but we also push the french theme.

Kevin Demers [00:31:12]:

Right now we're pushing cambodian because our chef is cambodian.

Angelo Esposito [00:31:16]:

Oh, very cool.

Kevin Demers [00:31:18]:

But we have all elements of all over the world that touch on what is canadian at this point, you know, and it's supposed to be a celebration of multiculturalism. That's the idea in itself.

Angelo Esposito [00:31:31]:

And then. And then you. You told me so. You know, we got cold room, we got al Pecano, we got parliament. And recently you mentioned that you're working on a new project. So I'd love to maybe just share your new project. It's kind of, you know, different than your other projects. So maybe the inspiration behind that.

Kevin Demers [00:31:44]:

The inspiration is pretty simple. It's COVID.

Angelo Esposito [00:31:47]:

Fair enough, fair enough. A lot of our listeners, I'm sure, can relate, sympathize with that, right?

Kevin Demers [00:31:52]:

So, basically, one of the big things for me was I wanted to treat the people that I work with, you know, a touch more respect than what I've been treated with in my past with people that I've worked under. And that means building them up to ownership position. And there was one specific person that it was his time to grow. His name's Sam Kirk. And COVID hit and put a brake on everything, and we both knew we wanted to work together. And an opportunity kind of arose where we saw, basically, we just saw all our eggs in one basket and went, well, you know, we're really in trouble right now because we have nothing that's allowed to be open except for takeout in one of our restaurants, which is parliament. The problem is, though, is that no one's really going to a pub for takeout. Like, it's not what you order usually.

Kevin Demers [00:32:46]:

It's an experience. So you're going there to have an experience. And we've based all of our businesses around experience. Now the experience is gone, so it almost doesn't make sense. Using COVID to our advantage, we went, you know what? Let's diversify businesses, and let's start focusing on something else that'll generate money during another COVID, if it ever exists again. So we ended up coming up with a retail store, but more specifically, a beer store. Been working on it for about six months, argument sake. And we're more or less a month away from being able to get it going and operating.

Kevin Demers [00:33:20]:

And it's very, very simple. You know, we looked at the market and we just saw that, you know, obviously, we can't sell alcohol because it's Saq's turf, which is the alcohol stores. And then we looked into, okay, what can we do that's different? That we can stay open in Montreal and or in Quebec, you're allowed to have a grocery permit and stay open because it's considered an essential service. So a grocery permit is a very loose term, because if you go to most cafes, they have grocery permits. So that's why most cafes are still open right now, because you have to kind of make that decision between a grocery permit or a restaurant permit. The problem with the restaurant permit is you're not allowed to sell alcohol to go. You're allowed to do that with a grocery permit, but you're not allowed to sell import. So you're only allowed to do micro microbreweries in Quebec or anything that's bottled in Quebec, wines and ciders that are in Quebec.

Kevin Demers [00:34:15]:

And that's it. That's all. So we decided to go that direction. There's, you know, we're really well known for micro breweries in Quebec. There's. My God, there's, like, 500 skus available. Again, we have plenty of knowledge in beer. We have plenty of knowledge with all the microbreweries in Quebec already.

Kevin Demers [00:34:32]:

So it just makes sense for us to sort of make that transition into retail at this point. So we're trying to bring that hospitality approach to the retail side of things now and push that side.

Angelo Esposito [00:34:43]:

I love it. I love it. I think in times of adversity, like, that's what you have to do. Even us on the tech side, just how we adapt and how we sell and going more online or trying to sell to different states or different countries, totally relatable. And at times like this, you got to try different things. Like you said, for a lot of people, takeout doesn't work. It seems like, oh, it's okay, just do takeout. But unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Angelo Esposito [00:35:07]:

It's not just like, no, okay, I'm gonna go on takeout, and everything's gonna be okay, right? It doesn't work that way.

Kevin Demers [00:35:13]:

Two things.

Angelo Esposito [00:35:13]:

One is, I'd love to, you know, kind of final note, if you'd love to maybe share one piece of advice, you've started from the bottom all the way, all the way to an owner, and now multiple venues, and I think you've shared a lot of cool lessons, but any kind of takeaways for people listening, maybe hospitality professionals listening? Any final words of wisdom?

Kevin Demers [00:35:30]:

With everything that happened with COVID I'd tell you, you know, I'm not the you only live once kind of person, but, you know, definitely with COVID and all that stuff, it's kind of woken up a lot of people, a lot of people in my circle as well, and think, really look deep and dig deep if you realize it's not something you want to do well. Build for something that you want. Invest in yourself, I think, is the number one thing that's most important. Instead of investing into either others and or into silly things. You know, that's what I did in all my twenties, is just invested in myself, as opposed to investing it into trips and this and that. And then, you know, my thirties, which I'm in my right now, able to enjoy my. My trips a lot more than at the beginning. And I think that's the most important thing, is that if you can invest in your future early on and really stay focused, you can definitely do something interesting.

Kevin Demers [00:36:18]:

But I'd also relate that to get a mentor, get someone that's a shitload older than you are, that's went through it, ask as many questions as you can. If not, yeah. If not, go to the bank, sit in the bank. That's what I did for, my God, almost two years. And if a question pops up, just ask a banker, ask the manager, ask whatever it is, like, just figure it out. If you really want it that bad, you'll find a way to figure it out. And that's, I think, the most important thing.

Angelo Esposito [00:36:48]:

Agreed. And so, to end off this segment, we end off every episode with a segment called last day on Earth. So being from the hospitality world, last day on earth. Not to get dark here, but what would be your last meal and your last go to drink.

Kevin Demers [00:37:02]:

Last go to drink. Last meal. Ooh, last meal. Probably end up going with a really, really good steak, mashed potatoes. Like, just the classic mashed potato steak, small little thing of fries. I'm a happy man, honestly, to drink with that. It's the good beer, straight up. Nothing more complicated than that.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:26]:

Fair enough.

Kevin Demers [00:37:26]:

I love it. I'm a ham and eggs kind of guy. Just give me the. Give me the easy stuff.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:33]:

I love it. I love it. Kevin, thank you so much for joining us today on Wisking It All. It was a pleasure to have you on the show. I think you really shed some light. So thanks again for being here and taking the time to connect.

Kevin Demers [00:37:44]:

Thanks so much, buddy. I appreciate it.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:46]:

Be in touch.

Kevin Demers [00:37:47]:

All right, definitely.

Meet Your Host & Guest

Kevin Demers, Owner of The Coldroom, EL PEQUEÑO BAR and Parliament

Kevin Demers is the creative force behind EL PEQUEÑO BAR, Canada's smallest bar, spanning just 147 square feet and renowned for its exceptional rum offerings. Transitioning from bartender to bar owner, Kevin shares insights into his journey, offering advice for hospitality professionals aspiring to own their own venue. Emphasizing the significance of networking and connection-building, Kevin discusses the challenges and joys of entrepreneurship, including memorable celebrity encounters. His story illuminates the passion and dedication required to carve out a unique niche in the vibrant world of hospitality.


Meet Angelo Esposito, the Co-Founder and CEO of WISK.ai, Angelo's vision is to revolutionize the hospitality industry by creating an inventory software that allows bar and restaurant owners to streamline their operations, improve their margins and sales, and minimize waste. With over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry, Angelo deeply understands the challenges faced by bar and restaurant owners. From managing inventory to tracking sales to forecasting demand, Angelo has seen it all firsthand. This gave him the insight he needed to create WISK.ai.

Recent Episodes

S1E1 - What it takes to go from Bartender to Owner with Kevin Demers - Owner of The Coldroom, EL PEQUEÑO BAR & The Parliament

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Show notes

Episode Notes

In this episode of Wisking It All, host Angelo Esposito interviews Kevin Demers, owner of The Cold Room, El Pequeno Bar, and Parliament in Montreal. They discuss the passion and inspiration behind Kevin's journey in the hospitality industry, from starting as a bartender to becoming a successful bar owner. Kevin shares his experiences working in the industry, the challenges of owning a bar, and the importance of creating a unique and memorable customer experience. He also talks about his latest project, a retail beer store, which was born out of the need to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Hospitality professionals often enter the industry out of passion and love for the craft.
  • Owning a bar requires a deep understanding of business, including costing, inventory, administration, and hiring.
  • Creating a unique and memorable customer experience is crucial for the success of a bar.
  • The hospitality industry provides opportunities for personal growth and advancement, but it's important to find mentors and invest in oneself.
  • Adapting to challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, requires creativity and diversification of business strategies.


00:00 Introduction and Background

05:05 Combining Entrepreneurship and Storytelling

10:16 Transitioning from Bartender to Bar Owner

16:23 Creating a Unique and Memorable Customer Experience

27:46 Parliament: Celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism

32:05 Diversifying Business Strategies During COVID-19


Visit Kevin Demers website!

Connect with Kevin Demers via Linkedin!

Learn more about The Cold Room!

Learn more about El Picano Bar!