HicksBiz Blog

Hicks on Biz: Edmonton's downtown has bright future BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2014

What a great year it has been for Edmonton and Northern Alberta commerce! I’d wager one of the best ever. What 2015 brings may be another story, but today, let’s look backward and give thanks. The local economy was just about perfect -  everybody was busy, the order books were filled, the machine shops were humming. The economy was hot, but not white-hot. Calgary Trail wasn’t filled with yellow signboards begging for workers. Most employers would say there’s still a skilled labour shortage, but it’s manageable. The downtown core had its best year since the halcyon days of the late ‘70s. Actually better. This mini-boom, as the bumper stickers once promised, is not being pissed away. There were no new office towers in Edmonton from 1990 to 2011 - now three are under construction, plus at least a dozen spanking new condo towers led by the 36-story The Pearl. Say what you will about how Daryl Katz runs his hockey team, but no other individual or com ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks' Weekly Dish: My requests to Santa BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2014

If The Weekly Dish could advise Santa Claus on gifts and suggestions for Edmonton’s restaurateurs and their customers … First urgent request, Santa: Could you mediate this ridiculous dispute between Tavern 1903 owner Larry Stewart and his landlord in the rebuilt Alberta Hotel, architect Gene Dub. That two such respected community leaders and veteran businessmen should get so mad at each other as to close the immensely popular Tavern 1903 is literally inconceivable, but it happened. Maybe Mayor Don Iveson could put on the Santa suit and do the talking.. Santa Claus, could you rein in the runaway prices for glasses of wine? I know, I know, restaurants are a tough business, but operators keep sneaking prices up. What used to be a $6 for a six-ounce pour, even 12 months ago, has moved up to $8 or $9. This from house wines you can buy at liquor stores for $15 a bottle. My Santa would turn back the clock. Too many of the city’s legendary restaurateurs are retiring. Peter Johner has moved ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Price of oil is falling, but the sky isn't BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2014

Yes, Matilda, there still is a Santa Claus. His gift this year might be not quite as extravagant as in 2011, 2012 and 2013. But it’ll be no lump of coal as in 2009, or those wretched recessionary years of the early ‘80s, or when Ralph Klein boosted the Edmonton unemployment rate to recession levels by slashing the provincial civil service in the ‘90s. Yes, the price of oil – our life blood, our golden goose, that from which all our blessings flow – has utterly tanked to US $55, after sitting on either side of $100 a barrel for five years.  But, as this column will explain, this oil price drop is in a very different context for northern Alberta than sudden price plunges of the past. There won’t be lay-offs. New hirings may slow, but few, if any, metropolitan Edmontonians will lose their jobs. John Rose, chief economist for the City of Edmonton, says in his cautious projections for 2015 that Edmonton will grow by 3% with 20,000 new arrivals – comp ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks' Weekly Dish: Porta Romana good but not great BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2014

Porta Romana 420 King St. Spruce Grove portaromana.ca 780-293-8719 Weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sat. and Sun., 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays Food: 3 of 5 Suns Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Suns Service: 2.5 of 5 Suns Dinner for two (just food): basic, $35; loaded, $70 A big deal has been made of Porta Romana as the first “authentic” Italian restaurant in Spruce Grove – indeed that city’s first serious dining experience outside big-box chain restaurants. This is not unexpected. Spruce Grove, next-door Stony Plain and surrounding Parkland boast 80,000 residents. Tastes are moving beyond pizzas and burgers. Porta Romana is family-friendly, a little adventurous, but mostly staying within standard pasta dishes made from scratch. The fact is Porta Romana is like dozens of other Italian restaurants in Edmonton, making standard pastas and sauces like Mama’s. It’s just in Spruce Grove. The room is pleasant, a transformation ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Adopt-A-Teen's corporate support is critical BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2014

Capitalism with a human heart is a wondrous thing. I have been fortunate to continue my association with the Edmonton Sun since retiring as a full-time columnist at the end of 2010. Time has flown by. Chairing the Edmonton Sun’s Adopt-A-Teen program that provides Christmas gifts for underprivileged Edmonton teens is one of them. Writing Hicks on Biz, this weekly column about business in Metropolitan Edmonton, is another. These two interests happily coincide in today's column, a salute to the Christmas spirit of multiple Edmonton companies and their employees, a spirit exemplified by their support of Adopt-A-Teen. If we can raise the money, 8,500 teens in (means-tested) families registered with the Christmas Bureau and the Salvation Army will each receive a $50 Walmart gift card donated by Adopt-A-Teen.  Which means a total $425,000 must be raised by Christmas. Gulp.  This is where corporate support is so necessary. Click here to Adopt-A-Teen It drives me bonkers. Every ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks' Weekly Dish: Sabzy a Persian culinary adventure BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 09, 2014

Sabzy Persian Grill 9314 34 Ave. 780-758-1005 sabzy.net Food: 4 of 5 Suns Ambience: 3 of 5 Suns Service: 4.5 of 5 Suns 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. seven days a week Dinner for two, just food – basic $30, loaded $60 I’m always gently skeptical of nutritional health claims. This enzyme is good for this, gluten is bad, eggs were bad, now they’re good. Serious evidence backs up the fact that if you eat too much and exercise too little, you will get fat. Too much sweet and crunchy, you’ll likely succumb to lifestyle-induced diabetes. But most other health claims are based on wishful thinking, not rigourous science. So when Ahmad Sabetghadan of the Sabzy Persian Grill started talking about the enzymes in this ‘n’ that, how cooking eggplant one way does this — which is good for that — my eyebrows furrow. Except Ahmad has a PhD from the University of Alberta in agriculture, and has such a love of food that he has probably forgotten mor ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Heritage Trust Fund will never be a leader BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 05, 2014

I’m throwing in the towel. Giving in. Yelling “uncle” at the top of my lungs. I accept the inevitable. Alberta will never have a Heritage Trust Fund (now at $17.5 billion) that will compare with the $885 billion Norway Oil Fund, or Alaska’s $50 billion Permanent Fund. Because Albertans love our low taxes. We have low taxes because almost all our oil and gas wealth – the provincial government’s royalties - is poured into Alberta’s current budget, being spent as fast as it arrives. Every time oil prices drop, national commentators start saying the Alberta Government should be like the Rest of Canada, i.e. bring in a provincial sales tax, increase provincial income taxes, reinstate health care premiums, etc. I have always supported this idea, that we should accept a 2% provincial sales tax or higher provincial income taxes. In exchange, energy royalties would be diverted into the Heritage Fund so our giant piggy bank could quickly grow to Alaska&rsqu ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks' Weekly Dish: Ampersand 27 a great place for sharing BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 02, 2014

Ampersand 27 10612 82 (Whyte) Ave. 780-757-2727 ampersand27.com Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns Service: 4 of 5 Suns 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. seven days a week Sat. and Sun. brunch, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Dinner for two, just food – basic $30, loaded $80 Congratulations, Nathin Bye and Greg Myshynuik. You set out to make creative fine dining as accessible, fun and adventuresome as humanly possible. Within eight weeks of opening Ampersand 27 on Whyte Avenue, you have already succeeded. Expectations were high. Bye made his name when, as executive chef of the Lazia Group and chef de cuisine at that group’s Wildflower Grill downtown, he won the city’s Gold Medal Plates competition in 2012. At the Wildflower, Bye embraced “small plates” … steering his clientele away from one large entree toward multiple small “sharing” dishes. Diners could try a greater range of food, leave the restaurant well-filled but not stuffed. ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: People without jobs; Jobs without people BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2014

People without jobs, and jobs without people. Temporary foreign workers are being sent home, but jobs in Alberta, particularly as health care aides, resident companions for the elderly, in retail, janitorial and on production floors, still go begging. Good jobs, too. They might have uncertain and/or odd hours, but most clock in around $20 an hour. According to a CIBC market study in 2012, 20% of the Canadian labour market was already showing signs of skilled worker shortages. On the flip side, Alberta’s recent immigrants in 2013 represented 21.5% of all unemployed Albertans. Alberta’s aboriginal unemployment rate as of Jan. 2013 was at 8.8%. That figure is steady improving, thanks to some powerful partnerships, but still well above the 4.2% overall unemployment rate. There’s a solution. It’s being delivered by Alberta’s 11 “Comprehensive Community Institutions” of which Edmonton’s NorQuest College, with 10,000 full and part-time students, is th ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks' Weekly Dish: Cute little eateries popping up BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2014

Baba Finklestein’s Café and Deli (take-out) 100A St. and Jasper Avenue 780-424-2121, babafinkelsteins.com 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns The Burrow (take-out) Central LRT Station, west concourse 780-425-9991, burrowcentralstation.ca 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays Food: 4 of 5 Suns The Greenhouse (Downtown) 10119-101 St. 587-524-9226, thegreenhousesalad.com 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns This is so good. Downtown condos are pre-sold and being built in droves. The LRT is full of downtown commuters and students. The downtown streets (actually the pedways in winter) are crowded with people not asking for spare change. Cute little eateries with great food are springing up in the most creative of places: Like inside, and around, the Central LRT station in the city’s very heart. The new Burrow take-out coffee and sandwich shop (by Nate Box of the Elm Café) is actually in the Central L ... Read the rest of entry »
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