The past year has been an exciting one for the food and hospitality scene in Edmonton, with a plethora of new restaurant openings and an assortment of huge headlines over the past two months. We take a look back at what happened in 2016, as well as what’s cooking for the coming year.
The socially progressive kitchen
In 2015, a group of students enrolled in a women’s and gender studies course at the University of Alberta launched FED UP, a project that aimed to document sexism in the food service industry. While that project went on hiatus in April of last year, 2016 saw an increased interest in social justice and employee welfare in restaurants. A national outcry about sexist dress codes for female staff early this year landed one of Joey’s Edmonton locations in hot water when an employee posted photos of her bloodied feet after completing a training session while wearing high heels.
Sexism isn’t the only issue on the menu. In November, local chefs, including Cory Rakowski, came together to launch Food for Thoughts, an organization that hopes to give hospitality staff a venue to discuss the mental health and addiction issues prevalent in restaurants and professional kitchens.
Chances are that we’ll see more discussion of both these and other social issues in the restaurant industry in the year to come.
The year of French restaurants
2016 was apparently the year of French cuisine. While numerous new bars and restaurants opened this year, a surprising number offered variations on French dining: Café Linnea, an innovative no-tipping (more on that later) breakfast and lunch spot specializing in Scandinavian and French cuisine; The Almanac, a gastropub that serves cocktails alongside rustic French Provençal dishes including bouillabaisse and ratatouille; Chartier, the crowd-funded French-Canadian restaurant in Beaumont; and Bar Clementine, the upscale French bistro and cocktail bar located on Jasper Avenue.
Explosion of the Ice District
Last year, the former Vue dish-section editor noted a number of restaurant closings resulting in empty spaces on and around Whyte Avenue. Fortunately, many of those spaces have since been filled with new restaurants, including Situation Brewing, Malt & Mortar, Nightjar, Have Mercy, Dorinku, Nudoru, and more. The next spot due for a major infusion of new restaurants is downtown and the “Ice District” surrounding the newly opened Rogers Place, where a stunning number of new restaurants have either already opened or been announced. There are massive new locations for Joey’s, State & Main, and a variety of new entrants and expansions, including Baiju (a restaurant and as-yet-unnamed speakeasy by the same folks that brought us North 53), Bottega 104, Stage 104, a new restaurant from Jamie Oliver, and countless others. The question, of course, is how all these new restaurants will fare given Alberta’s cooling economy and the increased cost of labour resulting from higher wages for hospitality staff.
2017: No more tipping?
When Café Linnea opened earlier this year, it was the first major restaurant in the city to embrace a no-tipping model. Food prices are higher in order to provide a higher base wage to staff in both the front-of-house and the kitchen. It’s an interesting choice. In Vancouver, Ritual was forced to scrap its no-tipping policy because it wasn’t financially sustainable, while many people objected to Earls attempt to impose a mandatory 16 percent service fee at their Stephen Avenue location.
While it may not have worked perfectly elsewhere, we could see an increase in no-tipping models as increases to the minimum wage could make it easier for servers to make a living without relying on tips.
It’s not delivery, it’s …
Edmontonians got a new delivery option this year with the launch of UberEats. While the on-demand car service was on hiatus from January until July, waiting for commercial insurance regulations from the province, the company launched its food delivery service to compete with existing players like SkipTheDishes and JustEat.
It’s not the only new delivery option for the city, though. In June, Chef’s Plate expanded its meal kit to Western Canada, including Alberta. Customers can order a weekly box of fresh groceries delivered straight to their door, along with recipe cards and instructions to make meals for two or four. Other meal kit providers such as Goodfood and HelloFresh are also expanded across Canada and are likely to reach Alberta in the next year or two.