It was an interesting year for restaurants in Edmonton, to say the least. While there were a number of high profile closures in 2019, most notably Hardware Grill, Noorish, and Manor Bistro on the independent side, as well as Red Robin’s and several locations of Tony Roma’s on the chain end of things, the scale was still tipped in favour of new restaurant openings.
The most anticipated addition to the scene was no doubt Filipino fast food giant Jollibee, which garnered line-ups even before opening its doors, and lengthy wait times in the months to follow. The splashiest entry was the arrival of Toronto-based O&B’s quartet of establishments (Braven, Kindred, Alchemy, Lobby Bar), contained in Ice District’s upscale JW Marriott Hotel. But what was most impressive was the number of locally-owned eateries that expanded this year, in spite of the flailing economy.
These include Baijiu’s addition of a burger joint in Royale and another bar in Pablo, Black Box Hospitality’s move into Highlands with Fox Burger and June’s Delicatessen, Farrow’s third shop on 124 Street, Workshop Eatery’s foray into burgers in Woodshed, Downtown branches of Tiffin and Filistix, and Duchess and Padmanadi opening up outposts south of the river.
All of these were added over a year that saw a provincial election called. Restaurants Canada, a hospitality lobby group chaired by Patrick Saurette of The Marc, campaigned against policies introduced by the NDP government, including a higher minimum wage and holiday pay. Teresa Spinelli, president of The Italian Centre, and Garner Beggs, co-owner of Duchess, both had to walk back comments made in connection with the campaign. After the incoming UCP government introduced a lower youth wage, in response, some restaurants committed to continuing with higher wages regardless.
Here are a few other items notable to me in 2019:
- Following the success of Ritchie Market, Oliver Exchange was not to be outdone. Also embedded in a mature neighbourhood, Oliver gained Brio Bakery, Iconoclast Coffee, Odd Company Brewing, and Culina To-Go in a single building. Also worth mentioning is the revamp of the former Sobey’s location Downtown, which subdivided, has flourished into a food-centric centre of its own, with international chains Dagu Rice Noodle and Gyu-Kaku adjacent to local contributions Tiffin and Pampa’s A Bite of Brazil.
- Shopping centres have never been known for their love of local, but West Edmonton Mall welcomed a number of independent businesses last year. Calle Mexico, Splash Poke, Reinette, and Gangnam Street Food all opened additional locations at the complex.
- Ghost kitchens, which cater exclusively to delivery customers, just started to take off in 2019. Big name players so far include Century Hospitality’s The Flying DoDough, and Leva Café’s Sepps Pizza.
- Ice cream had a moment this year, with Calgary-based Made by Marcus opening up an Edmonton outpost, and Kind Ice Cream joined the Ritchie renaissance. Duchess also started serving up its own house-made pints.
- A well-made bagel was easier to find in Edmonton, thanks to June’s Delicatessen and Bagel Bar (currently operating out of DeRose Fine Foods).
- Edmonton finally made the jump to multi-day farmers’ markets in 2019. Newcomer Bountiful Farmers’ Market went all in, opening three days per week from the start. The Edmonton Downtown Farmers’ Market (formerly City Market) had a rough transition into its new Quarters location, but eventually landed on operating two days per week.
- Edmonton-based chefs and home cooks had a banner year on TV food competitions. Most notably, Shane Chartrand (SC Damn Fine Food) competed on Iron Chef Canada, and Edmonton, through Alexei Boldireff (Baijiu, Royale) finally got its first contestant onto Top Chef Canada (albeit short lived). A number of local chefs also competed on Fire Masters (including Food Network darling Lindsay Porter of London Local), and home baker Nataliia Shevchenko was crowned the winner on CBC’s The Great Canadian Baking Show.
- A number of cookbooks from local authors were published this year. Both Giselle Courteau and Karlynn Johnson published their second books, Duchess at Home and The Prairie Table, respectively. In tawâw, Shane Chartrand (with Jennifer Cockrall-King) shared the story behind his Indigenous roots and food.
You can check out previous year in reviews here.