HicksBiz Blog

Weekly Dish: Packrat Louie most pleasant indeed BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, JULY 04, 2017

It’s like catching up with a long-time friend who, in the interim, has slimmed down considerably, is looking great and exudes new enthusiasm and a positive mind-set. In short, visiting Old Strathcona’s signature dining-out restaurant Packrat Louie after its recent renovation — both in decor and menu — is most pleasant indeed. The open and airy eatery has been a South Side fixture since chef extraordinaire Peter Johner (now semi-retired but still making chocolates in the Okanagan) opened Packrat Louie in 1993. It’s been home to several of the city’s better chefs since Johner sold Packrat Louie in 2006, including Jan Trittenbach (Solstice Seasonal Cuisine) and Brad Lazarenko (Culina group). The timing of the extensive renovation and re-invention was just right. Packrat was getting a little tired, its menu a bit stale. It took courage for managing partner Jodh Singh to recognize the need for short-term pain for long-term gain. The restaurant was shut down for several ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Spend your marketing money on made-in-Edmonton BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, JUNE 29, 2017

We get it – sort of. The City of Edmonton/Edmonton Economic Development/Edmonton Tourism/Alberta Tourism spend millions of dollars on “marketing” our fair city – striving to create an impression out in the world that Edmonton is a most enjoyable place to visit and live. Those very-well-done, fast-paced, colourful, Edmonton-is-fun TV ads that ran during Oiler telecasts during the 2016/17 season represent “brand” marketing for Edmonton. The ads reached a big, targeted audience outside Edmonton and presented a pleasing impression of the city. We didn’t mind watching them over and over again. They were quite justifiable in terms of a return on the dollars spent. Our tourism/marketing folks are big on “brand awareness.” Millions of dollars are being spent to attract and subsidize targeted extreme sporting events to the city — the Red Bull Crashed Ice event, the Extreme World Series, the Tour of Alberta bike race. These events, our tourism expe ... Read the rest of entry »

Weekly dish: Comfort food is in - Woodwork Restaurant - review BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: WEDNESDAY, JUNE 28, 2017

Almost four years old, Woodwork was a leader of Edmonton’s downtown bistro restaurant resurrection, a phenomenon that has truly been the talk of Canada’s culinary community. Woodwork – with its high ceilings, skinny layout, fancy cocktail bar in the front and open kitchen at the back - morphs into a cocktail bar with food late at night. It has become a design prototype for many new downtown restaurants. A return visit to review Woodwork – the first in three years - was prompted by well-known executive chef Lindsay Porter taking over the kitchen a few months ago. Lindsay has not so much revolutionized Woodwork’s offerings as evolved them. The menu has surprisingly become much more meaty – a most satisfying push against the trendy holier-than-thou, meat-is-bad, plants-are-good attitude. “Larger plates” are making a come-back, at least on the Woodwork menu. Woodwork currently offers eight mains – all meat but one – four “smaller pla ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Edmonton heading to a red October? BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, JUNE 22, 2017

An Edmonton businessman, who has succeeded within Northern Alberta’s roller-coaster economy for some 15 years, sat across from me and shook his head. “October,” he said. “It’ll catch up to us by October. “Red October – the streets of Edmonton will run red with financial bleeding.” Revenues in most Edmonton-based business are either flat, or have mildly dropped year-over-year. Funny how that happens when a 50 per cent drop in oil and gas prices works through an economy. Local housing prices have stayed flat, or dipped, in the latest Edmonton reports. When families stopped moving to Alberta, when Edmontonians themselves start feeling financially stressed, upward mobility takes a hit. Expenses – ever-increasing and costly government regulation, ever-increasing taxation – keep going up. City taxes are up 3% and now there’s the carbon tax. Minimum wages are set to increase. “Even in tough years, I could count on revenues bein ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks Weekly Dish: Great kitchen, staff and space BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, JUNE 20, 2017

Vaticano Cucina 10310-45 Avenue (corner of Gateway Boulevard and 45 Avenue) 780-250-1110 Vaticanoyeg.com Mon. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tues. to Thurs. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $40; loaded, $70 Food:  4 of 5 Suns Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns Service: 4 of 5 Suns   It’s a brave move, to open a new mid-to-higher level Italian restaurant in a city where about half the top restaurants, it would seem, are Italian. Especially since Vaticano Cucina’s principal owners, brothers Joe and Riccardo Francese, are new to the hospitality business. Especially since Vaticano Cucina executive chef Dione Harwood’s reputation is just starting to grow. But good on the brothers: For a restaurant with no known pedigree, Vaticano Cucina is a credible, comfortable and modern dining experience. Comfortably parked in with the Sorrentino’s restaurants, Vaticano is not trying to compete with t ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Funding aboriginal business BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2017

It’s all about money. It always is. An entrepreneur full of dreams wants to create a better mousetrap that’ll take the world by storm and make him or her a gazillionaire. But they can’t find the money — the thousands, the hundreds of thousands of dollars — it takes to get a company up and running before the better mousetrap starts selling. The aboriginal community is no different – except it may be even more daunting for a young community member to launch a business. Which is why a lot of local pride will be on display next Wednesday and Thursday at the Shaw Conference Centre. The Alberta Indian Investment Corporation (AIIC) is hosting a gathering of the 52 aboriginal financial institutions belonging to the cross-Canada National Aboriginal Capital Corporation Association. The occasion happens to fall, not un-coincidentally, on Canada’s June 21 Aboriginal Day. The AIIC has been among the most successful of those lending institutions, providing capi ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks Weekly Dish: May Tang Bistro thrive and inspire BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017

At long last, a modern, authentic Chinese restaurant has opened its doors in Edmonton. Don’t get me wrong. At times all of us hanker for old-style take-out North American Chinese food – big, greasy egg rolls, chicken balls with sweet ‘n’ sour sauce, broccoli stir fry, chow mein. But other Asian eateries in this town have evolved. Dozens of Vietnamese, Thai and Korean eateries are aware of culinary trends and have adapted accordingly. Chinese food has been frozen in time. The dishes available 30 years ago at the city’s faves – The Lingnan, Pearl River, Blue Willow, Golden Rice Bowl – are still their best sellers. So the two-month-old Tang Bistro on 109 Street, immediately south of the High Level Bridge, is a breath of fresh air. These young fellows – owner Tim Yan is still in his 20s, as is his head chef – are overthrowing old-school thinking that Canadian-Chinese food must stand still. In line with adventurous cuisine is a contemporary ap ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: To tip or not to tip BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: FRIDAY, JUNE 09, 2017

It’s that moment of restaurant reckoning. Dessert is over. Your small group, be it friends, family or colleagues are ready to go home. The server brings you the bill. You discreetly look it over, trying not to raise your eyebrows. With cocktails, starters, bottled water, the asparagus upgrade and those two bottles of wine, it’s twice as much as you expected. The remote credit card machine is insistent. The tip, it says — percentage or amount? Tipping has become awkward. Not just in restaurants, but in taxis, hotels, coffee counters, home delivery and hot-food delicatessens. Everybody wants a tip. Coffee shops have tip jars. Some restaurants now want payment upon ordering, before food is delivered to the table. But there’s still an expectation of a tip. My wife and I recently travelled through rural Portugal and Spain. Tipping is not part of those cultures. What a relief: No guilt, no raised eyebrows, no confusion. You paid the bill’s tally for food a ... Read the rest of entry »

Weekly Dish: Lux, a range of refreshing, interesting options BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, JUNE 06, 2017

Lux Steakhouse + Bar 94 10150-101 St. (Commerce Place, main floor) 780-424-0400 centuryhospitality.com Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight Closed Sunday Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $60; loaded, $120 Food:  4 of 5 Suns Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns Service: 4 of 5 Suns When the Lachance family first opened LUX Steakhouse — then known as Chance — in Commerce Place, it was big news indeed. Millennials won’t remember, but the downtown was as dead as a door nail 17 years ago. Many thought opening a new high-end restaurant downtown was an invitation to failure. In fact, the timing was good. Within a few years, the downtown revival took shape. Other business district steakhouses followed – Chop, Ruth’s Chris, Pampa – but the re-named Lux was first-to-market, and it also had Bar 94, a terrific, fancy, long-counter bar named after the number of Lux shareholder and beloved ex-Oiler Ryan Smyth. Bar 94 still fill ... Read the rest of entry »

Weekly Dish: Two different dining experiences at Little Village and Alder Room BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2017

Between Ben Staley’s Alder Room and Theo Psalios’ Little Village, two more different dining experiences cannot be imagined. But isn’t that what dining out is all about? How diverse and excellent the city’s culinary offerings have become. It would be near impossible, on a weekly basis, to visit every quality dining room in one year. At Staley’s recently-opened Alder Room, you pay in advance via an online ticketing system for one of the 12 spots at 7 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday. In return for your $140 (expensive, yes, unique and top-quality, yes) Chef Staley orchestrates a 12-to-20 dish food evening, lasting 2.5 hours. There is no set menu. As a diner, you put your faith in Staley, the young self-taught chef who captured the imagination of adventuresome eaters as the first chef of North 53. Staley left that restaurant to create his own, all-original food experience at the Alder Room and its adjoining cold-tapas sister restaurant Alta, recently reviewed in this colum ... Read the rest of entry »