Chances are, if you’ve had the fish tacos at Adelaide, or brunch at Mallard Cottage,
you’re not surprised to hear about multiple chains – like The Works and Cora’s –
closing their doors in St. John’s. Their closures don’t mean no one is eating out;
it just means no one is eating there, and with so much choice in local
restaurants these days, why would they?
There is a baffling background chatter right now about the plight of local restaurants,
and it’s ignoring one glaring fact: all restaurants aren’t equal. In fact, some are bad,
poorly conceived, or are simply outmoded.
Yes, every restaurant in this city is facing a challenge: it’s expensive to get fresh food here;
rent is ridiculous; it’s hard to pay a staff and still make a profit. But the vitality and vibrancy
and selection of food in St. John’s is at an all time boom.
Any gloomy commentary on the fact some restaurants have been shuddering up ignores
the cyclicty of the business. Ten years ago, places like Bianca’s are what people considered
nice restaurants – they wow you with their luxurious space and doting wait staff.
But that time is gone, and so Bianca’s closed as a sign of times (maybe, who knows for sure!)
And Legros & Motti’s abandoned their warehouse-sized harbourfront aberration because
fewer people like that style of restaurant these days.
That’s simplifying things, but, Bianca’s closing and Legros & Motti’s downsizing has no
reflection on how well or poorly other restaurants are doing, and as a very regular
consumer of food at downtown locales, I know for a fact plenty of places are packed all the time.
It took me a few tries to get a table at Adelaide when it opened, and as a regular patron,
I know it’s a 50-50 chance they’ll have a seat most nights. Other places, like The Club,
Chinched, Magnum’s or Mallard are busy because they’re on trend: fabulous food, a casual vibe,
fair prices, and even the cocktail ingredients are fresh.
The reality is that our local restaurateurs are acclaimed visionary entrepreneurs in their trade.
Take Jeremy Charles of Raymonds – he was recently named one of the top 50 Most Important
People in Canada in Maclean’s, for the way he revolutionized the concept of farm-to-table freshness,
and sourcing local. It’s a philosophy followed by all the best restaurants in town.
You can taste that mantra in the meals at places like Mallard Cottage or Adelaide Oyster Bar;
you can’t at chains where they have to serve previously frozen patties or country-wide franchise
recipes that force a kitchen in St. John’s to serve ingredients not available fresh on the island.
I was recently invited to a supper at a restaurant I won’t name. The waiter said, as if to impress,
“… and we make that pasta sauce right here in house!” Um, I would certainly hope so.
Any restaurant proud to be making something in-house is a little behind the times.
And probably the next to go. So be it – that’s evolution, only the strong and adaptable survive.
If you’re among those mourning the loss of Cora’s in Atlantic place, this article implores you
to grab your next brunch at Blue on Water or Mallard Cottage. As for the works,
I confess it was a tasty place, perhaps the best chain we’ve ever had here,
but if you want to try a real burger, seeour cover stroy this month.
By Chad Pelley