Skip to main content

Owner Cody Willis in the grocery side of his new establishment A1 Bodega and Cafe in Calgary, on July 23, 2020.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

As restaurants reopen for dine-in service across the country, it’s clear the industry won’t be returning for the foreseeable future, as businesses cope with health measures that include significant spacing between tables and thus reduced capacity – and revenues.

To navigate that reality, some restaurants and chefs are launching packaged food and drink products in hopes of creating a viable revenue stream while giving people who are wary about dining out something well-crafted to enjoy at home.

The grocery section featuring packaged goods at the new A1 Bodega and Cafe.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

In British Columbia‘s Okanagan region, pop-up dinner organizer extraordinaire Aman Dosanj has recently launched her own line of unique spices rooted in her Indian family heritage. In Saskatoon, the chef and co-owner of Primal, Christie Peters, whips up batches of haskap berry mustard, foraged tea blends and fermented crabapple barbecue sauce, among other things, which she sells at The Little Market Box.

While Ms. Peters has been producing some of these products for the past several years, she has significantly increased her production in recent months after the closing of her acclaimed restaurant, The Hollows.

Cody Willis is the main owner-operator of Thank You Hospitality in Calgary. His restaurant group operates a handful of popular concepts in the city including Native Tongues Taqueria and Calcutta Cricket Club. Recently, his eatery Two Penny was reopened as A1 Bodega & Café. The re-imagined space is now one part grocery store and one part casual dining room. Mr. Willis explains that the change was necessary and better suited to the times.

Mr. Willis says by adding a small grocery and retail component to the business, he felt he could support their community with good food by serving quality, local groceries and prepared foods to go.Jeff McIntosh/STRJMC

“Our community is cooking at home more, living and working from home, and generally going out less. It’s a pretty drastic lifestyle change for many who live in Victoria Park and the Beltline,” Mr. Willis says. “By adding a small grocery and retail component to our business, we felt we could still support our community with good food by serving quality, local groceries and prepared foods to go.”

A1 is getting set to launch a wide range of its own in-house packaged products, which include things such as Bolognese sauce, Calabrian chili honey and spiced crispy chickpeas. In addition to that, the market side is already selling its own house-made loaves and rolls and will also be adding taco fillings from Native Tongues and chutneys and curry mixes from Calcutta Cricket Club.

Mr. Willis, right, speaks with a customer in the grocery side of A1 Bodega and Cafe.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

So far, Mr. Willis’s hybrid concept has been well received and he explains that the company will continue to adapt as needed to Calgarians’ needs when it comes to providing local food and drink amid the restrictions of the pandemic.

“Right now everyone has a different level of comfort about dining out, but people still want to have great dining experiences whether that’s at home or inside the restaurants. We want to be accessible to our customers no matter their current situation,” he says.

In early May, Winnipeg’s most well-awarded restaurant, Segovia, announced that it would not be reopening as a result of the pandemic. The restaurant’s chef and co-owner, Adam Donnelly, said the decision to close permanently was a difficult one, but also a reason to consider shifting gears.

“With all the restrictions and regulations now implemented because of the pandemic I couldn’t see myself changing the way we did things at Segovia for the last decade. Those regulations are there for a reason and they need to be there, of course, but it also felt like it was just time for me to start a new chapter and slow down.”

Always having a penchant for bread-making, Mr. Donnelly has now launched his own sourdough bread company, Midsommerbread. Starting small, the chef-turned-baker currently sells his loaves at a few farmers’ markets and to a variety of Winnipeg restaurants.

He says the pandemic allowed him to hone his craft and get back to basics when it comes to interacting with people in an authentic and personal way ... while remaining spaced out, of course.

Patrons are spaced accoring to physical distance guidelines at A1 Bodega and Cafe.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

“If this pandemic has taught me anything it’s that I need to slow down and strive for balance in my life. It is so important to me to enjoy what I am doing every day,” Mr. Donnelly says. “Connecting with people at the farmers’ market will be a big part of that. I would rather grow my business by word of mouth than simply by social media.”

Perhaps the most impressive shift to retail products by a restaurant group, in this case, is happening with Vancouver’s Kitchen Table Group at the hands of its executive chef, Alessandro Vianello.

The company’s new off-shoot, Pastificio di Luigi, was born during the pandemic and offers a wide array of fresh pastas, sauces, oils and more. Because of its wild popularity, Mr. Vianello says, they have opted for a new production facility in the Vancouver area where they will be able to greatly expand on their current production as well as begin to offer dried pastas as well.

“I think, going forward, we will always have some sort of retail component to our restaurant concepts,” Mr. Vianello says. “Of course our passion is still running restaurants, hospitality and telling our stories [through food] to people that eat with us, but having interesting products that are made in-house and people can take home with them can be an extension of that.”

Though he’s not quite ready to announce where this will be happening, Pastificio di Luigi will also soon have a bricks-and-mortar home as Kitchen Table Group will be taking over a retail space in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.