It’s a big month for Canada. After all, it’s not everyday you turn 150!
And while Alberta’s restaurant scene isn’t quite that old (yet…), we figured of all months, June would be the most appropriate to celebrate some important provincial meal milestones as well. The dark, cozy space at Buchanan’s — known for its savoury sirloin burger and world-class whisky list — is welcoming 29 years in business.
Back when Calgary was host to the Olympics in 1988, owners Carol and Michael Buchanan decided to open up their own place. The pair had just returned from overseas, and Michael had great success running restaurants all over the Europe and the U.K.
“Michael always knew if you were going to be successful in the restaurant business, you had to be in the real estate business,” Carol Buchanan says.
Part of a savvy few who own both their business and their building, Buchanan says the recent economic downturn in Alberta might have wiped them out if they didn’t have the luxury of being their own landlords.
“We were always hoping to eventually buy the building where our restaurant was,” she says. “That’s the No. 1 reason why we could survive this particular downturn, which I call a ‘black hole’ that sucked out the middle of downtown Calgary.”
Von’s Steakhouse & Oyster Bar in Edmonton has faced similar troubles over the past few years, but restaurant manager Alissa Hildahl says with some menu tweaks and a revamping of their space, they were able to keep up with the changing tide since the steak joint first opened in 1988. Now a contemporary, brick space with a fireplace and rounded leather booths, Von’s has some of the best, fresh seafood (don’t miss the coconut shrimp) and prime rib in town.
“There’s been a lot of updating menus to reflect the changing palate of our guests,” explains Hildahl. “Clientele are looking for more fresh, local and healthier ingredients from Edmonton and Alberta. We want to make sure they’re getting good quality and service for their hard-earned money.”
Both opening the same year, Von’s and Buchanan’s are spots that have morphed into restaurant monuments in Alberta. In the case of Buchanan’s, the next generation of ownership will come with Carol and Michael’s son James.
Family ties seem to be important factors in any business’ longevity, as evident by restaurants like Caesar’s Steakhouse & Lounge. Celebrating their 45 birthday, Caesar’s has been passed down through two generations of family. To make it to any old age, a loyalty to living is also paramount; Smuggler’s Inn owner Frank Krowicki’s longstanding commitment to some seriously stellar cuts of beef is another example of a family restaurant hitting their 40-year landmark.
It may not be quite as mature as Canada, but the century-old building housing The Hat On Jasper in Edmonton has more than a 100 years worth of stories to tell.
“I was so excited to be associated with a property more than 100 years old,” says current owner Mayank Bhatnagar. “Based on my research, I haven’t found a single restaurant in Canada that’s been continuously open or hasn’t moved locations for 106 years.”
Formerly called The Silk Hat, Bhatnagar bought the space 10 years ago when it was going out of business. Paying homage to the rich history of the space, he decided to call it The Hat. Serving up Reuben sandwiches, grilled liver and onions, and Coke in glass bottles during its many years as a diner, Bhatnagar has kept the old, heavy stainless steel countertops, but revamped the food and drink program.
“We classify ourselves as a resto pub. We have all the things any pub will have, but several notches up,” he says.
With an expansive beer and wine menu (and the second best scotch list in Edmonton), The Hat makes almost everything from scratch, the rest of their products supplied fresh by the Italian Centre Shop.
Another Alberta institution, the everelegant La Chaumiere in Calgary is also approaching 40 years in business, and has stayed true to French cuisine with their take on duck confit, veal sweetbreads and escargot dishes.
“We have clientele who have been coming here for the last 30 years,” says owner Joseph De Angelis. “First they came with their parents, and then their children… sometimes you see three family generations having dinner here — that definitely makes it a success.”
And it’s not just the customers who’ve shown such loyalty to the Calgary establishment. Unlike probably any restaurant you’ve ever heard of, La Chaumiere has only had two dishwashers cycle through; after the first retired, her niece took the job over and is still there today.
Sadly, so many great places have shut down over the last few years, and that’s why we think it’s even more important to ring the birthday bells for these spots that only seem to get better with age.