Downtown Montreal Will Soon Have an Exciting New Food Concept

Canadian real estate company Ivanhoe Cambridge is renovating the Place Ville Marie in downtown Montreal, turning a tired underground food court into a culinary destination.  Expected to open in 2019, the pedestrian walkway that runs between Rene-Levesque Blvd. and Rue Cathcart will be transformed into a visually-stunning Esplanade that will be programmed year-round with experiences.  Below the Esplanade will be the brand-new “Le Cathcart Restaurants et Biergarten”.  According to Ivanhoe Cambridge, the Biergarten will feature 15-different restaurants concepts including bars, grab-n-go, cafes, and full-service bistros.  The space will fit over 1,000 diners at a time, ensuring that everyone has a seat during busy lunch hours where office workers will likely intermingle with tourists.  Several high-profile local Montreal chefs have confirmed that they will be taking part of the endevour, although I do hope that several of the spaces are given the reigns to local up-and-coming chefs who can introduce something new and exciting.

Aside from the food, the architects of the project have interestingly incorporated an all-glass panel rooftop to the underground biergarten.  This will create the feeling of an indoor-outdoor “market hall”.  The space previously had 4 skylights that allowed minimal light to flow through.  The glass roof will allow visitors of the biergarten to have a feeling that they are outside, even when dining during bitterly-cold Montreal winters.

I can see this project being very successful based on its highly strategic location.  With several major hotels (including The Fairmont), thousands of nearby office workers, tourists, Montreal’s Eaton Centre, and McGill University anchoring the opposite end of McGill College Avenue, there are plentiful opportunities to bring in a wide-variety of customers throughout the day.

I’m very excited to see how the project is delivered based on the renderings.

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Esplanade View of the Biergarten with Glass Roof – Image Source: Ivanhoe Cambridge & sidlee Architecture

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Interior image of seating area – Image Source: Ivanhoe Cambridge & sidlee Architecture

 

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Why Granville Island Got Shipping Containers All Wrong

Granville Island has been a long standing location for foodies in Vancouver, BC for decades.  From excellent grab n go options, to bakeries, cheese shops, fish mongers, and the always delicious Lee’s Donuts; tourists and local residents alike inter-mingle among the many stalls and shops of purveyors.  The operators of Granville Island, CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation), commissioned a major planning study back in 2016 titled “Granville Island 2040”.  This produced a vision for how Granville Island can transform itself over the next twenty years.

One of the first “quick wins” of the Granville Island 2040 plan is the recently opened Popina Canteen, a shipping container food stall.  Located next to the Granville Island Public Market and with views of the downtown peninsula, Popina Canteen is a food destination for all those coming to Granville Island.  Operated and run by the “who’s who” of the Vancouver culinary scene (Angus An, Robert Belcham, Hamid Salimian, and Joël Watanabe), these four chefs have elevated Vancouver’s dining scene for many years with some of my favorite restaurants including Campagnolo and Kissa Tanto.  But something went wrong with the positioning of Popina Canteen.

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Popina Canteen – Image Source: Georgia Straight

The location and potential clientele of Popina Canteen screams fast casual food, but what you will find on the menu ranges from a $12 toast bar, to $26 Lobster Rolls, Seafood trays that can run over $200 per order, custom cocktails, and bottles of wine.  Now I am all for local, sustainable, and quality food, but the majority of the menu at Popina Canteen would be better placed in a full-service restaurant with prices such as these.  The food I did try was ok, but nothing to entice a second visit.  Vancouver has the second highest housing prices in North America, and punches above its weight in sales of luxury goods, so Popina Canteen may just be a representation of the direction Vancouver has gone in recent years, catering to upscale tastes.

Looking at successful models of shipping container food stands in North America, there are two typical methods of implementation.  The first is creating an incubator for aspiring chefs, or a gateway point for young entrepreneurs looking to start their first food-based business.  The second is partnering with local businesses who are expanding their business operations.

I was in Toronto at the start of July and visited the city’s  primary shipping container food market and a recently opened outdoor market that draws parallels to Popina.  The first, Market 707 at Scadding Court focuses on the first typology.  The shipping containers along Dundas Street creates a pedestrian mall of food & beverage outlets (along with a few retail good shops).  It is operated by the Scadding Court Community Centre, and offers a low-rent opportunity for entrepreneurs to start their culinary-based business.  Nom Nom Nom Poutine has been a staple of Market 707 for many years, and offers what I think is the best Poutine in Toronto, with a basic poutine only costing only $6!  Other purveyors include Thai cuisine, Colombian street food, and traditional Afghani dishes.  Most items throughout Market 707 are $10 and under.

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Market 707 at Scadding Court – Image Source: Architecture Lab

While not in shipping containers, a similar (albeit larger) food market recently opened in front of downtown’s Union Station.  Called “Union Summer”, the outdoor food market is operational between July 1 and August 19 and offers a huge communal seating area.  The synergy between catering to locals and tourists in a high profile location is similar to Popina.  Union Summer has partnered with local restaurants such as WVRST, Harry’s, and The Carbon Bar, among others to provide locals and tourists with a one-stop shop to many unique Toronto-based restaurants.  Each vendor carries approximately 3 to 5 items, ranging from burgers and Cuban sandwiches, to dessert and alcoholic beverages.  The only unfortunate thing is that Union Summer only operates during the summer, but it is understandable with Toronto’s winters!

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Union Summer in Toronto, ON

The last shipping container food market I wanted to touch on is Steel Craft, operating out of Long Beach, California.  I won’t go into too much detail since I have profiled it several times on this blog.  Steel Craft acts as a community gathering spot, and has been so popular, the urban eatery concept is expanding into two more Southern California cities.  The original location covers a wide-array of food options such as coffee, beer, ramen, and pizza.  The locations of Steel Craft place focus more towards local residents than tourists (although I am sure they still get plenty from out-of-town).

So Popina Canteen.  Intriguing concept showcasing Vancouver’s dining scene?  Expensive tourist trap?  You be the judge.  I personally would have loved to see a concept that was more inclusive to a variety of incomes and tastes.  Popina Canteen can has only been open for a month and can still be great, but I believe the concept itself needs work.  For now, I’ll probably stick to my poutine and empanadas every time I visit Toronto instead.

The rise of the ‘gourmet cluster’ – and the small towns with the most Michelin stars per capita

A very cool study by The Telegraph out of the UK looked at small towns around the world that have a relatively high proportion of Michelin star restaurants comparatively to their population.

It demonstrates that you don’t have to be a large urban centre to enjoy fine dining.

Read the Article The Telegraph Website Here

There seem to be two primary reasons why a cluster of Michelin star restaurants would aggregate together in a small town setting.

One, a spectacular natural setting.  Whether that is a mountainside village in the Alps, a seaside resort, or among the vineyards in Napa Valley.  The setting acts as a natural accompaniment to the fine dining experience.  Two, a chef’s primary residence.  A chef may open several restaurants in close proximity to where they either grew up, or where they currently live.  If these restaurants become a culinary destination and draw upon a regional population base (as well as food tourism), other fine dining restaurants may naturally cluster around them.

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Restaurante Martin Berasategui (Image credit: Telefono Gratis)

 

Visit to Smallman Galley in Pittsburgh

Last week I was in Pittsburgh for a business meeting and was able to make time to visit the Smallman Galley.  First things off, I have been meaning to visit the Smallman Galley for over a year, but the wait was definitely worth it.  I would have to say that it was one of the better food concepts I have personally been to in the past few years.

The Smallman Galley is located in The Strip District, an previously industrial/warehouse district of Pittsburgh on the edge of downtown.  The Strip District was historically the market district for Pittsburgh, but now it is an eclectic mix of residential, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and makerspaces.  It has the cool factor that pulls in a younger millennial crowd.

The Smallman Galley has been in operation for several years now and is NOT your typical food hall.  There are 4 restaurant concepts in the 6,000 square foot space, along with a great looking bar serving local beers, ciders, mead, and cocktails.  The four kitchens are out in the open, and operate as a restaurant incubator for aspiring chefs looking to establish themselves in the industry and try new concepts.

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From the Smallman Galley website:

We cultivate and accelerate undiscovered Chefs by providing a forum to showcase their capabilities, hone their craft, develop business acumen, and build a cult following behind their concepts. With four fully outfitted kitchens and seats for 200 guests, we provide the infrastructure for Chefs to bring their concepts to market at low-risk and for low-cost. Our chefs run their own restaurants in our space and have the autonomy to run their businesses the way they’ve always dreamed. They set the menu. They hire a staff. They interact directly with customers and build their following.

Chefs operate their restaurants rent-free for their entire stay with us. Smallman Galley collects 30% of top-line revenue generated from each restaurant. Chefs use the other 70% to purchase inventory, compensate staff, and pay themselves. All marketing, advertising, equipment maintenance, space upkeep, and utility costs are covered by Smallman Galley.

It is a great business concept for both sides.  Chefs are able to begin a business without worrying about paying rent or outfitting their kitchen, and they also get a strong customer base in a high traffic location.  The owners of the Galley get a cut of the revenue of each restaurant, and can also become equity partners of the business after “graduation”.  Since the Galley is a restaurant incubator, concepts rotate every 12 to 18 months.  This keeps diners coming back to favorites prior to graduating the incubator (I made it in a week before Brunois and Colonia finished their stay), and anticipating new chefs and concepts.

The food is all made-from-scratch using local ingredients when possible.  From a sampling of all four concepts, the quality is high, on-par with what you would get from a quality local restaurant rather than a food court.

Now a restaurant incubator that has a rotating cast of chefs and concepts, along with a fantastic bar is one thing.  But the environment that the owners were able to create in an old warehouse building adds to the experience.  A mixture of long communal and individual tables in a double height space that is primarily brick, wood, and metal provides the perfect environment for a place you want to visit again.

The Smallman Galley is definitely a best practice on how to open and operate a successful restaurant incubator.  In operation for several years now, it will be interesting to see how the owners evolve the space.  One recent idea that has been implemented is rotating and graduating restaurants at different stages of the year, rather than all at once, ensuring that the Galley is never in complete flux.  The newest entrant is “Home” a concept on higher level comfort foods such as burgers and fish sticks.  Now I just have to find out when my next visit to Pittsburgh is…

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Food Hub in San Francisco Looking for Funds to Make Project a Reality

Food incubators, food hubs, and food halls are all interesting concepts that have become extremely popular around North America over the past decade.  Many of these culinary and food concepts have become successful from both a business and economic perspective.  However many struggle financially, even before they can get off the ground.  It is easy to open a proven concept such as a Subway… but a food hub that focuses on empowering women and minorities through micro-restaurants, that is a much trickier financial perspective.

The planned “La Cocina Municipal Market” in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco has been anticipated since early 2017.  It would be run by the nonprofit La Cocina, which does some really interesting stuff in the Bay Area

The mission of La Cocina is to cultivate low income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance and access to market opportunities. We focus primarily on women from communities of color and immigrant communities. Our vision is that entrepreneurs gain financial security by doing what they love to do, creating an innovative, vibrant and inclusive economic landscape.

La Cocina Municipal Market is to occupy a 7,500 square foot space in an old post office building that has been sitting vacant.  Permanent long term plans for the site include a mixed-use building containing retail at-grade with affordable and social housing above.  Due to the extensive process of raising funds for the development, demolition of the post office building is still 5 to 8 years away.  Enter La Cocina, which has planned the Municipal Market as a temporary use until demolition.  The Market would be a place for local women to launch micro restaurants and other food-related businesses, building upon the great work that the non profit has already completed for the community from a culinary incubation perspective.

La Cocina

The Market was expected to begin construction in early summer, with renovations to the post office building completed before the end of 2018.  The project has now hit a road block due to unexpected rising costs.  Originally, the Market construction had a budget of $2 million.  $1 million was provided by a local family who were previous owners of the land.  La Cocina matched this amount, for a total of $2 million in funding.

Unexpected costs have now plagued the project, with construction costs rising to nearly $4 million.  The additional $2 million will have to come from a mix of city-provided funds, and philanthropic donations.  Cost overruns are typical in re-purposed buildings, especially when transitioning to a highly specific use.  The concept of the Municipal Market is an exciting endevour that would empower local women and provide a culinary anchor to the Tenderloin District; however the financial implications that La Cocina are facing demonstrate the difficulties of adapting a building within a limited budget.  It also begs the question of whether the $4 million would be better used on a more permanent location, since the post office site will ultimately be redeveloped within the next decade.  It would be a shame to invest a large amount of money into a building that has a limited shelf-life.  Creating community spaces is so important, especially in ethnically diverse areas such as the Tenderloin, but removing them once they have become entrenched in a neighborhood is difficult.

There has been discussions among city officials and community groups on how to raise the additional funds required to move the project ahead.

To learn more about La Cocina, their incubated culinary businesses, or to donate to the cause, follow the link.

 

Restaurant Clustering

I have been consulting for a major real estate project in Calgary over the past five months, which has led me to tracking the culinary scene in the city.  There have been some great restaurants that have emerged in downtown Calgary over the past few years, whether it has been on pedestrian friendly 8th Avenue, or towards the more eclectic and gentrifying neighbourhoods along 4th St and 17th Avenue.

I have discussed restaurant clustering in the past.  The idea that once several trendy and up-and-coming restaurants establish themselves in a neighbourhood, other “like-minded” restaurants are drawn in to create a clustering effect or critical mass.  This then forms a destination for local residents who have the choice of a variety of options.

The Calgary Sun ran an interesting article earlier this month on food clusters, mapping out certain types of food (and drink) in various areas of the city, from Japanese and Vietnamese, to Beer, and even a “Chicken Corridor”.

It makes for a interesting exercise that many cities could conduct, to better understand where their food & beverage offerings are, their types, and whether there is any type of clustering occurring.  Of course, established ethnic enclaves in various cities will naturally create a clustering effect, however more modern clustering is still able to occur, with a strong example in Vancouver’s aptly named  “Brewery Creek”.

Check out the Calgary Sun article here.

 

The Whitewashing of Detroit’s Culinary Scene

CityLab had an interesting article today regarding Detroit’s culinary scene.  The article uses a different viewpoint, one that looks at gentrification and race.

In today’s Downtown Detroit, the majority of new restaurant ownership—along with the bulk of prestigious staff positions at these establishments—is overwhelmingly white. So is their patronage. With a few important and notable exceptions, Downtown Detroit’s contemporary culinary scene, as celebrated by popular media coverage, investment capital, and growing industry recognition, is almost exclusively white-faced in a breathtakingly black city—and adjacent to other similarly white-faced commercial and residential concerns. This inequality is the final destination for most urban revival schemes, a sad union of capitalism and structural racism that’s hard to untangle.

CityLab Article Link

Shipping Containers being utilized for urban eatery at SteelCraft

Developments built out of shipping containers have been fairly popular over the past decade.  With a glut of shipping containers in certain countries due to global trade (it is not cost effective to ship empty containers back to their point of origin), there have been inventive ways to re-purpose shipping containers.  They are easy to move, stack, and retrofit due to their simple rectangular box nature.  Boxpark in London, England is one of the most well known shipping container developments, establishing itself as the first modern “shipping container retail mall”.

Today, more and more innovative uses are being created out of shipping containers.  One of the newest entries-to-market is SteelCraft, an outdoor food hall in Long Beach, California that opened in February.  SteelCraft may not be a new concept if you perceive it simply as a food hall, but the developers really focused on making it a social community hub for the surrounding Bixby Knolls neighborhood on the north side of Long Beach.  From the SteelCraft website:

Born of a desire to see people come together over food and drinks, SteelCraft unites local eateries with a communal dining space in Long Beach. Whether you come for the food, the drinks, or the people, there’s a place for you at the SteelCraft table.

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SteelCraft central courtyard – Image credited to SteelCraftLB

SteelCraft has been built to connect seamlessly with the surrounding community, which has experienced gentrification as many young families have moved into the neighborhood.  The community has not historically had a central meeting place that could be used to socialize (such as a town square), something the developers have looked to capitalize on.  The development has been constructed from 10, forty-foot shipping containers, which totals approximately 3,200 square feet of space (based off of a standard 40×8 container).  The cost of constructing the urban eatery out of shipping containers was much more affordable than a typical bricks-and-mortar development, especially since a foundation and roof is not required.  Communal tables are integrated in a central courtyard where various events occur on a weekly basis.  Past events have included live music, pop-up retail shops, and soccer viewing parties.

I have been to Long Beach several times, and I believe that crafting a food hall out of re-purposed shipping containers is a great homage to the Port of Long Beach, which has been a major employer to the city over the past 100+ years.  I also think that outdoor food halls are going to become more popular, especially in regional areas of the Southern United States where weather is favorable year-round.  There are more opportunities for expansion, holding events, and reconfiguration of layout with an outdoor food hall, something that reflects the history of food clusters in South Asian countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan.

SteelCraft is also a great example of a suburban food hall.  Last September I profiled four different types of food halls, and SteelCraft fits well within the suburban food hall definition, especially focusing on local vendors and marketing to local residents.  The surrounding area is primarily single family residential with low-rise multi-family residential and low-rise office buildings nearby.

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SteelCraft vendor – Image credited to LA Times

 

Belcampo takes on Farm-to-Fork, literally

In north California, outside the town of Gazelle, near the Oregon border, the story of Belcampo begins.  Belcampo raises cattle, chickens, pigs, turkey, sheep, and goats across 18,000 acres of land in an organic and sustainable manner.  All animals are able to graze freely in the pastures and is animal welfare approved.  20 miles down the road from Gazelle, in Yreka, California, Belcampo operates a 20,000 square foot food processing plant called “Belcampo Butchery”.  Not a typical meat processing plant that has a high level of automation, the butchery uses traditional hand-cutting methods which provides more skilled and higher-paying jobs to the local communities.

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Belcampo Farm – Image credited to Modern Farmer

The meat is then delivered to seven Belcampo butcher shops and restaurants throughout California, including an outpost at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.  This allows the company to completely manage the entire process of farm-to-table, ensuring that all points of the process meet their high expectations.

Belcampo also runs “Meat Camps” throughout the year at their farm in Gazelle where “guests stay in luxury tents in our orchard, enjoy family style meals under the stars, and participate in open-fire grilling, basic butchery, and knife skill lessons to gain a thorough understanding of meat cookery.”  The cost is $1,400 USD per person (double occupancy, fork over another $600 if you want a tent to yourself), so it isn’t cheap.  But it’s cool and showing where the market is moving.  The June and September camps are already completely booked.

What are the take-aways for a concept such as Belcampo?  A highly-controlled process of farm-to-fork, where a single entity grows, processes, and cooks the food you eat.  Restaurants have already shown in recent years that they prefer to establish strong relationships with local farmers.  I expect to see this more and more, even if not to such a large-scale as Belcampo.

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Belcampo Grand Central Market – Image Credited to Eater.com

 

Food Hubs Continue to Build Momentum

I have covered food hubs in several blog posts over the past year.  The State of Michigan has been one of the early adopters of food hubs, but as they become more mainstream and prevalent, they are spreading across North America.  The idea of a food hub is to create a central distribution point for the sale of farm-grown produce, including fruits, vegetables, meat, and other items which is produced by local farmers in a region.  The food is then sold to grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, added-value manufacturing facilities, or distributed further afield to other states or provinces.  Basically, it acts a central location dedicated to selling local product.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food hub as a:

“centrally located business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and/or marketing of locally regional procured food products”

One of the biggest benefits of a food hub is it takes the distribution concerns off of the producers.  Many farmers have difficulty reaching certain distribution networks and are unable to always sell their crops.  A food hub acts as an sophisticated aggregation point that has the distribution networks in place.  This relieves producers of having to concentrate efforts on distribution, rather focusing more of their efforts on production.

One of the more interesting ones I have been following over the past year is the Food Hub recently established in Worcester, Massachusetts.  A city of approximately 185,000 residents has set-up a regional food hub that has three core areas:

  1. Aggregation, distribution, and marketing services
  2. Workforce development culinary training program
  3. Commercial kitchen incubators

The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts has been tracking the establishment of the Worcester Regional Food Hub, which is a great case study for other municipalities to understand the implementation required for a food hub.  For a stable base of buyers, many of the “first customers” have been institutional uses such as schools and government facilities.  It will be interesting to track and see how Year 1 (2017) goes ahead for the food hub.

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Worcester Food Hub Pilot Announcement – Image credited to Worcester County Food Bank

What I can say regarding this specific example is that the Regional Environmental Council and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce have really put in the effort to do this right.  Rather than setup a food hub right away, two years of planning and trials were conducted to ensure that the concept was correct, the location was optimal, the funding was in place, and the right people were ready to run the operation.