While there is a lot of uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain: the effect on Calgary’s restaurants will be profound. As many restaurants close their dining rooms to ensure social distancing, local business owners are trying innovative ways to keep Calgarians fed while generating at least some revenue.
For the most part, that means take-out. Calgary is already set up with many ghost kitchens (i.e. restaurants that exist only for take-out) and places that rely on delivery outfits like Door Dash and Skip the Dishes, but many of our renowned independent restaurants have previously resisted joining the delivery craze because their food doesn’t travel particularly well. But times, of course, have suddenly and quite drastically changed.
Modern Steak has found itself in a unique position in that it was already planning to launch its MBurger take-out service this week, long before COVID-19 was a concern. Owner Stephen Deere didn’t want to ruin the integrity of his premium ranch-specific Alberta steaks by packing them in to-go boxes, but he figured he could develop a travel-ready burger that reflected his restaurant’s level of quality and execution.
Sourced from Benchmark Angus, the burger patties are made of a blend of short-rib, chuck and brisket and go for a very reasonable $7.95 ($10.95 for a double and $13.95 for a triple). The short menu also includes veggie burgers ($8.49), wagyu hot dogs ($7.95), traditional sides and milkshakes ($6). MBurger is available through both Door Dash and Skip the Dishes or via pick-up at the Stephen Avenue Modern Steak location (100 8th Ave. S.E.) if you call ahead at 403-244-3600. For more information, visit modernburger.ca.
But not all local restaurants have the infrastructure in place to pivot to take-out so easily, though it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to do something to keep their kitchens going. Dandy Brewing Company (2003 11th St. S.E.) is delivering its beer directly to home customers and while it isn’t doing food delivery at this time, chef Merritt Gordon is keeping his kitchen open so customers can grab a to-go snack if they stop into the tasting room to pick up beer themselves. Again, Gordon was concerned about how well his regular menu would travel, so he’s focusing on easily packed comfort foods like his very popular hot chicken sandwich on white bread with gravy and peas ($16), lentil and roasted garlic soup ($10), and an elk spaghetti Bolognese ($19).
The team at Bar Von Der Fels (1005A 1st St. S.W.) has a similar problem in that their regular menu is almost impossible to pack up and they don’t have experience running a take-out business, but owner Will Trow is charging forward and figuring things out as he goes. Chef Doug King has developed an entirely new small plates menu with items like grits with snow crab and grilled peppers ($21) and a fennel, apple, mortadella and brie salad ($12) that can be ordered a la carte or as part of a family-style meal that includes a whole nine-piece menu ($70 for two people).
Bar Von Der Fels is also facilitating take-out with its pop-up partner Pizzaface, with pizzas ranging from $22 to $26. Both menus will be delivered within a 5-km radius and are also available for pick-up (wine is also available with pick-up). Note that the kitchen’s capacity is quite small, so it is best to call well in advance.
Naturally, these are just a few of the restaurants launching delivery or curbside pick-up operations, in addition to the hundreds of local spots that have always had take-out. As of press time, Charcut, Flores and Pine, Cassis, Cravings, Una Pizza and Wine, Annabelle’s Kitchen, Brasserie Kensington, Market, Vin Room, Empire Provisions, Cookbook Company, Our Daily Brett, Sauce Italian Market and many other restaurants are experimenting with what works best for them and their customers. Naturally, each restaurant’s offerings are subject to change, so check with them (Instagram seems to be the medium for take-out announcements) before planning your dinner and exercise patience, as many of these restaurants are doing their best under extraordinary circumstances.
Not all restaurants are opting for alternative business solutions; many are choosing to temporarily close as they wait out this crisis. But with rent to pay and payrolls to honour, those restaurants also need an immediate injection of cash, which is why many are asking loyal customers to purchase gift certificates for future use. Nights and Weekends, for example, is running a gift certificate campaign with half of all proceeds going directly to temporarily laid-off staff (and a 20 per cent discount offered when gift cards are eventually redeemed).
To help facilitate the call for gift card sales, the teams behind Shelter, Fine Food Stop and the upcoming Orchard restaurant have set up a database called Eat Later, a directory of restaurants looking to sell gift cards during the COVID-19 crisis. Restaurants can add themselves to the directory so that customers can shop for gift cards in one place. For more information, visit eatlater.ca.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.