HALIFAX – The Trailer Park Boys, Nova Scotia’s supposedly dopey mockumentary stars, are amassing a business empire spanning an online comedy network, production studio, beverage deals, marijuana branding and now a landmark Halifax restaurant and bar complex.
The entrepreneurial acumen of Mike Smith, Robb Wells and John Paul Tremblay — Bubbles, Ricky and Julian — belies the dim-witted campy characters that have attained cult status and prompted Netflix to pick up the franchise, now filming season 12 in Truro, N.S.
Following the launch of Liquormen’s Ol’ Dirty Canadian Whisky two years ago, the boys recently released a new beer, Freedom 35 lager, in partnership with Toronto’s North American Craft, or NAC Importers Inc., and have also teamed up with Organigram Inc. of New Brunswick to sell branded marijuana products once legal weed kicks in.
Now the East Coasters’ Swear Net Holdings, the firm behind the online entertainment subscription network SwearNet, is venturing into brick and mortar business.
Along with Gary Howsam, producer of the hit television show, and Halifax bar owner Brad Hartlin, the Trailer Park Boys have bought up the Halifax landmark Economy Shoe Shop Cafe and Bar from local businessman Victor Syperek.
In the same deal, the business partners also acquired the former Seahorse Tavern space, a live-music venue located below the Shoe Shop, and brokered the joint ownership of the Toothy Moose cabaret upstairs, previously co-owned by Smith (Bubbles) and Hartlin.
Through Swear Net Holdings, the three actors and Howsam own 75 per cent of the three venues, while Hartlin owns 25 per cent.
Together they now control over 18,000 square feet of prime bar and restaurant real estate on Argyle Street in downtown Halifax across from the Nova Centre, a $500-million hotel, office and convention centre complex slated to open later this year.
“Right now it sucks that it’s under construction and the street is closed,” said Smith, better known as Bubbles, the character that sports thick, Coke-bottle glasses and plaid shirts. “But when it’s done we’re going to have a permanent patio. It will be the premier location in downtown Halifax.”
Hartlin said the team is investing up to $2 million into overhauling the entertainment complex, with a big lump of cash going into a brand new Shoe Shop kitchen and renovations to the decor.
While the Shoe Shop has a fresh coat of paint and some new lighting, the eatery has kept the same “vibe,” with its stained glass, large artificial tree and mural, he said.
“It’s a symbol of Halifax,” said Hartlin, who played hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for two years before returning to Halifax and eventually opening a sports memorabilia store and Bubba Ray’s sports bar. “With its big diamond sign … it’s really an iconic landmark.”
There are still subtle hints superfans of Trailer Park Boys will appreciate though, like Freedom 35 beer on tap and possibly a Julian rum and Coke on the drink menu.
But the downstairs live music venue will take on more of a distinctive laid back, Sunnyvale Trailer Park atmosphere, Smith said.
The Toothy Moose, meanwhile, has run its course.
The fun-meets-trashy cabaret will become an upscale lounge called The Lab, Smith said.
“The Toothy Moose has had a kind of a down-and-dirty country bar feel and we wanted to do sort of the opposite, more of a high-end L.A. lounge kind of thing,” Smith said. “It’s going to be painted out all white with a lot of colour-changing LED lights, very moody, with bubbling beakers and staff in lab coats.”
The five business partners are staying mum on how much they shelled out for the Economy Shoe Shop name and restaurant, as well as the former Seahorse Tavern space.
“We started a mile apart,” Hartlin said of negotiations with Syperek. “Then some others came to the table that were interested in the space and that drove costs up.
“It took about two years from the initial conversation. But we eventually closed the deal April 1.”
For the Trailer Park Boys, the bars and restaurant come after years of translating the television show’s popular brand into business deals and merchandising.
The online merch store includes the usual smattering of sweaters, shirts, ball caps and key chains as well as the more unique swearing badge set of buttons, bobbleheads and stickers.
But the boys have been branching out, snapping up two buildings in an industrial park across the harbour in Dartmouth for production.
“In some ways we feel like we’re just getting rolling,” Smith said. “We’re constantly biting off more than we can chew but then we make it work and we make it fun.”