photo courtesy of James Best.
As he heads into election day, hoping to be elected for a third term, Naheed Nenshi has been faced with a lot of tough questions to answer. It’s hard not to follow along with this particular civic election, as the race has been a most fiery one.

Ever a supporter of local creative communities, Mayor Nenshi graciously took the time to sit down and talk with us about some of his favourite places to eat around Calgary and his plans for helping local restaurants operate successfully in continued tough economic times.

How often do you dine out in the city?

I’ve always been frugal, but you know, every now and then you want a little bit of a splurge. Once in a while I get to go to [places like] Charcut or Cleaver.

You’re always downtown working out of City Hall, so what’s your go-to for a lunch downtown?

My most common lunch is the Bow Valley college cafeteria! It has a brand new Indian food station and that makes me happy.

What do you think helps makes a restaurant great?

You know, it’s all about amazing quality service. One of my favourite places —and it’s not because there are lines are out of the door all the time— is Hayden Block and this is from a guy who doesn’t eat pork! The thing about Hayden Block that I love so much is the the team there. It’s not just about the food, which is excellent, but they really have a great model of service. It’s really attentive, casual, fun, friendly, not stuffy and I really love that.

In times like this everyone has to up their game.

Patio season is over, but patio regulations/extensions seem to be especially difficult for local restaurateurs. Why is that?

This is a source of continual frustration for me. When I ran in 2010, one of the things I did was I talked a lot about the restaurant patio and how hard it was to get a patio approved in Calgary. I used that as my example of “red tape” and what we needed to fix and we fixed the patio situation, but then it creeps back again and the red tape comes back again.

Real talk: From a restaurateur’s perspective, it is not easy to open a restaurant in Calgary.

One of the things we really have to do —and we do continue to work hard on this— is to make it easier to start and open a business. I can’t believe that I am still saying what I was saying seven years ago. My colleagues in the city really need to understand that they are not successful if they make everyone jump through all the hoops and fill out all the forms. They are successful when small businesses are operating easily and are successful.

Outside of a promised continual effort to ease business opening procedures, how have you worked with local restaurateurs recently?

I’ve learned over the last 7 years that this is a continual battle. Sometimes, we get it right. For example, I am really proud of the work that we are doing with the restaurants on 17th Avenue. That construction had to happen and it has to be hugely disruptive. It is taking out hundred year old pipes, but we really worked hard to work with the community to try to figure out how to do that. In September, we were doing this back alley party, to try to make people to think of the “back alley” as the front of the restaurant. Those are the sorts of things we have to continue to do to help people through this.

What about other restaurants who have suffered or are currently suffering from construction blockages and don’t get the same attention as the ones on 17th Avenue S.W.?

Right now at this moment, we are also doing a major construction on the 17 Ave. S.E., and ultimately that is going to make a huge difference for the businesses there.  It is going to push them more onto the street, it’s going to create much more pedestrian environment there, as well as the bus rapid transit. It will make a big difference in the end. Luckily on the 17th S.E. we have never had to close the road, but it’s pretty ugly. It’s hard to park, it’s hard to get to these places.

We have to continue to help folks with this, because the construction is necessary. Building infrastructure is necessary, but it has been a journey to get my colleagues to understand that a part of it is to make sure that the businesses thrive [during that process].

We had an issue last year with 61st Avenue S.W. across from Chinook Centre where we were closing off the access to a Halloween store in the month of October. You can’t do that! These are the sorts of things that we continually trying to get better at.

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