Chris Phillips is known to many as one of the Ottawa Senators' most valuable players. Since being the top NHL draft pick in 1996, Chris - dubbed Big Rig by his team mates thanks to his Fort McMurray roots - has played a key role both on and off the ice in Ottawa. With his wife Erin, he serves as honorary co-chair of Ottawa's Candlelighters children's cancer support charity, and he's also a partner in Big Rig Brewery. Ottawa at Home shared a pint with Chris to talk about his fondness for the popular brewpub.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO GET IN THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS? I'd been involved in other restaurants before and have always enjoyed it. Some friends and I started talking about opening a place like this and as soon as we met our brewmaster Lon Ladell, it all came together. It was a lot of work to get the doors open but I really enjoyed it, having had a strong vision of the kind of space I wanted this to be - industrial, but also warm and friendly - the kind of place people want to visit often.
WHAT ROLE ARE YOU PLAYING IN THE BIG RIG ORGANIZATION? I'm kind of an ambassador for the Big Rig brand. I visit the restaurant as often as I can, just to walk around and chat with customers. I'll also be promoting the beer at events, especially now that we are selling our Big Rig Gold through the LCBO. I particularly enjoy the beer side of our operation and enjoy working with Lon, tasting and giving feedback on the different beers he is crafting.
WHAT KINDS OF BEER DO YOU LIKE? I usually look for local, craft beers wherever I go. When Big Rig first opened a year ago, our ByWard Brown was my favourite, but now I'm partial to our flagship Gold beer. I'm even working on growing hops for this brew on my Manotick farm.
DO ON-ICE EXPECTATIONS OF YOUR FANS AFFECT YOU ANY MORE NOW, KNOWING THAT SOME ARE WATCHING FROM SCREENS AT YOUR BAR? They do, but it's not a distraction - it actually adds to my joy of being involved in Big Rig.
DO YOU SEE EXPANSION IN THE FUTURE, THINKING DOWN THE ROAD TO YOUR RETIREMENT? We would certainly like to expand, particularly so we can increase our brewing capacity. We'd also like to look at growing our beer distribution side. I know a lot of folks in Alberta who would like to get their hands on Big Rig beer!
IS THE HOSPITALITY BUSINESS WHAT YOU EXPECTED IT TO BE? Yes and no. There are a million details that cannot be anticipated, but I find myself getting more drawn into it as time goes on. There is so much I want to learn, especially about the brewing process. It's been humbling to see the operation have so much success - I was pretty excited the first time I walked into an LCBO and bought a six pack of Big Rig beer. I feel like the brewing world, especially in Ottawa, is a lot like hockey. It's a true brotherhood and I really love that about it.