Westboro Bridgehead moves as coffee chain gets new owners 

The exterior of the closed Bridgehead with paper on the windows.
Westboro’s Bridgehead at Richmond Road and Golden Avenue has permanently closed. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack 

Westboro’s Bridgehead is moving as the coffee shop closes “unprofitable locations” ahead of the company’s sale. 

The announcement came just weeks after Bridgehead owner Aegis Inc. announced it would be selling the company to Pilot Coffee Roasters for $3.5 million. The deal is supposed to close in the first quarter of this year. 

The Bridgehead coffee shop at Richmond and Golden is one of multiple in the city impacted. The Rideau Centre location and another at Albert and Bank have also closed. 

Aegis Inc. did not comment on how many of their shops would be shuttering. 

“Aegis has been working to find ways to strengthen the Bridgehead brand for continued long-term success over the past few years, and one of those steps was the closing of a few of the unprofitable Coffeehouses,” wrote Aegis Brands president and CEO Steven Pelton in a statement. 

News of the Westboro closure first started circulating on social media Feb. 18 after a sign was posted on the shop’s door. It was taken down a day later and replaced with a new sign stating it would be moving to a “bigger location”.

Thr exterior of thr fairmont Bridgehead.
Wellington West’s Bridgehead on Fairmont Avenue is a popular coffee shop in the community. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Much of Bridgehead’s history has come out of Westboro. In 1981, the company was founded in Toronto, but eventually declared bankruptcy. It was soon bought by Tracey Clark, an Ottawa-based entrepreneur for $30,000 . 

The fair trade coffee roaster opened its first physical location in Westboro at 362 Richmond Rd, where the Mountain Equipment Company now stands.  It was a risky move at the time, and Clark had to rely on friends and family for financial assistance. 

Within a few years success paid off and Bridgehead climbed to nine outlets by 2008. Today there are over 20 locations across the city, including two in Wellington West and one in Westboro.

Expansion plans put on hold 

Aegis Brands acquired the company in 2020 after Clark sold it for $9.5 million. 

The new owner – whose former holdings also include the Second Cup coffee chain – planned to expand the brand into other markets, including the Greater Toronto Area. 

But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, giving Bridgehead a heavy blow as lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the virus caused revenues to plummet, prompting Aegis to put its expansion plans on hold.

Bridgehead’s business began to perk up after lockdown restrictions eased, and its revenues in the third quarter of 2023 were up more than 20 per cent over the previous year

Ian Lee, a prominent Ottawa retail analyst from Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business said the coffee industry is a “competitive market.” He noted Aegis probably decided it could make more money by concentrating on its restaurant business.

“My educated guess is that the margins are better in the industry they’re staying in,” said associate professor Lee. “I’m guessing that they decided [the coffee business] was never going to become that profitable or that strong for them, and so they decided to take the money and re-allocate it.”

A very sun lit coffee shop with reflections of colourful stained glass windows reflecting on the walls.
The interior of Westboro’s Bridgehead at 317 McCrae Ave. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Lee said it “makes sense” for Bridgehead to join forces with a company that is focused solely on coffee, noting the retailers can now take advantage of market synergies and build on their combined knowledge of the business.

“I think there’s a better strategic fit there,” he explained.

Aegis said proceeds from the sale will be used to reduce the company’s debt and for general working capital purposes. They added that no staff would be losing their jobs as a result of the closures. 

“We are happy to inform everyone that all Bridgehead team members in Ottawa, including all team members in any recently closed coffeehouses, will be transferred to existing coffeehouses immediately,” said CEO Pelton. 

With files by David Sali of the Ottawa Business Journal 

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