Fat Sparrow Group breathes new life into Harmony Lunch
Harmony Lunch has long been known as one of the Kitchener-Waterloo Region’s oldest dining establishments.
Last October it closed its doors and served its last burger after 86 years in business. Former owner, Bruce Marks, sold the popular lunch spot at 90 King St. N. for personal and family reasons.
Nick Benninger of Fat Sparrow – the restaurant group behind several popular restaurants in Uptown Waterloo – decided to give the restaurant a second life, reopening Harmony Lunch on July 29.
“Harmony Lunch [has] just an epic history, we’ve gotten thank[s] from people around the world,” Benninger said. “We had a guy stop in yesterday from the UK and say that he stops in every 4 or 5 years and goes straight to Harmony Lunch.”
Many of the renovations made before opening day were focused on preserving tradition rather than creating something new or different.
“This wasn’t an easy building to rebuild,” Benninger said. “I was in love with the place and so were a lot of people – as you can see from the crowds.”
It was important for Benninger to take a lot of feedback from the community and the customers who would go to Harmony Lunch on a regular basis. Everything from the decor to the iconic burgers and onions; he made sure not to change anything that was essential to the atmosphere of the old Harmony Lunch.
“There was never any intention to morph it, or change it, or do anything spectacular; we just wanted to bring it back to what it was,” Benninger said. “The project from day one was to preserve what is a landmark in our community.”
“The burger … we’ve tried our best not to change it,” – Nick Benninger, Fat Sparrow Group
According to Benninger, even smaller details like the coat rack and the napkin dispensers resonate deeply with patrons and are not worth being over looked.
When it comes to the the actual renovations, Benninger has added a few modern features to update its vintage 1950’s theme.
“We’ve got the big beautiful garage door at the front which we plan to have music pumping out of most of the time,” Benninger said.
“We have music and speakers and TVs, which kind of put a new spin on the Harmony.”
Throughout the renovations and overhaul of Harmony Lunch, Benninger made sure to put extra focus on the menu, taking input from the community and implementing it as much as possible.
“The burger … we’ve tried our best not to change it,” Benninger said.
“There’s a lot of different features that people have told us not to change; we [have] had no shortage of people reaching out and telling us what not to ruin, so we’ve preserved as much of it as we can.”
As with the renovations Benninger also made some minor changes to the menu, including the addition of milkshakes and an updated sandwich menu. The updated menu introduces a modern twist to the classic diner aesthetic.
“Some [menu] features that I really identify with: fried chicken sandwich, BLT sandwich, and we[‘ve] got milkshakes that we’re putting booze in if people want it; you can get a White Russian Milkshake or a Grasshopper Milkshake,” said Benninger.
“We were really careful not to do too much and mess the place up, one of the coolest items on the breakfast menu that were adding is a real Belgian Waffle with soft serve ice cream and a little maple syrup and double crispy bacon.”
When it comes to the student demographic, Benninger hopes that students will appreciate the smell of fried onions and the unique history behind this 87-year-old landmark.
“There’s an interesting student demographic, more often than not students don’t really wander off to the uptown because of the amenities close to [campus],” Benninger said.
“We’ve really opened it up a bit so that people can’t help but notice … the smell of the onions and burger patties,” Benninger said, “which you can smell from three blocks away – which is close enough to Laurier Campus.”
“We’ve [also] put a liquor license in place to appeal to the younger demographic,” Benninger said. “Instead of ordering a Coca Cola you can [now] order a beer.”
Although Benninger has thought about how to make Harmony Lunch more accessible and attractive to the student demographic, more than anything he wants to stay true to roots and tradition, relying more heavily on the existing reputation surrounding the establishment.
“The smell of the onions, the folklore of the restaurant … it’s hard to be new to KW and [not] have someone tell you about a place like Harmony Lunch,” Benninger said.
As for future plans, Benninger sees no end in sight for the rejuvenated Uptown staple.
“We want to get to 100 years no matter what. We won’t accept anything less than that. We’re at 87 this year, so 100 years is around the corner and it’s very achievable,” Benninger said.
“This could be a forever restaurant.”