The foie gras triangles from Brasserie Bardot, a second restaurant by Violino.

By GRAHAM HICKS

It’s a head-scratcher.

The best of restaurateurs are crying the blues — fewer customers spending less, higher taxes, higher wages.

But as they cry, they open more restaurants!

Dozens of secondary locations are opening, using the same name or variations.

STORY CONTINUES BELOW

Padmanadi, Vivo, Pizzeria Rosso (Pizzeria Bianco), Splash Poke, Bodega Tapas, Farrow Sandwiches, Workshop Eatery (Woodshed Burgers),  Café Amore (Amore Pasta), Dorinku Tokyo (Dorinku Osaka), Duchess Bakery, Green Onion Cake Man,  Violino (Brasserie Bardot) and Local Omnivore (Pink Gorilla) have all opened second outlets. And this list barely scratches the surface.

Partake was one of 2019’s most successful new restaurants. Pictured here, its charcuterie board. PHOTOS BY GRAHAM HICKS – EDMONTON SUN

Nate Box – who opens, closes and converts eateries in the blink of an eye, temporarily closed Salz Bratwurst, sold Little Brick in Riverdale, converted Elms Café to a burrito shop, and opened June’s Deli and Fox Burger in the newly renovated Gibbard Block in the Highlands.

BUCO – The Sorrentino Group’s growth division – has multiplied from one to three restaurants. Culina is expanding again, soon to open in Hawrelak Park.

Meanwhile, several eateries shut their doors, usually blaming hard times. We lost the Hardware Grill, Gini’s, Holt’s Café, the Red Robin chain and, surprisingly, the once-bustling Holy Roller in Old Strathcona.

So why a deluge of expansions on one side of the street, solid establishments closing on the other?

Business! If somebody owns a good, going concern, satellite operations can improve the bottom line with far less costs compared to opening a new operation.

The satellites tend to have simple menus and counter service, meaning fewer staff to pay.

The bad news has been the retreat from interesting/fusion/fine dining.  When the city’s better chefs are trumpeting “gourmet” pizzas, burgers, fried chicken and poutine, fine dining is in trouble.

The vegetarian craze didn’t take off. Kanu opened in late 2018 as a five-star vegetarian gourmet restaurant. Now it’s a fancy vegetarian pizzeria. The vegan Noorish closed its doors. But Padmanadi, with its mock-meat menu, expanded. The “Beyond Meat” burger craze is on the wane. Mushy lab-made plant “meat” does not taste as good as hamburger.

No matter the economy, new restaurants always open. Braven in the new JW Marriott hotel carries on where Hardware Grill left off. The Spotlight Cabaret kitchen is a plus for the city. Cyrille Koppert’s new Euro-café Partake is a roaring success. Chef Ben Staley will augment serious dining with Restaurant Yarrow.

OEB Breakfast Co is leading another trend – paying $20 lunch or dinner prices for a loaded, but high-quality breakfast plate. That’s before coffee! The Calgary-based chain has already opened two outlets here, with more to come.

OEB Breakfast Co. elevated breakfast to a new level.

Adventurous Filipino restaurants are catching up in popularity with Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Chinese cooking. Led by Filistix, second-generation Filipino chefs – born and/or raised in Edmonton – are re-inventing their moms’ dishes for a wider audience. The results are spectacular. Jollibee’s crispy chicken and burgers do not count.

Has fried chicken reached its zenith? There’s so much choice out there, especially from the Korean outlets. How unfair that such unhealthy food tastes so good.

Brewpubs? There’s a slew of new openings, despite the fact nobody dares drive anymore, even after just one drink. How many will survive?

Home delivery is probably the biggest food story of the year.

SkipTheDishes and other home delivery services are both the bane and the salvation of restaurants. Orders come through the door when sit-down customers aren’t showing up.  But the home-delivery services take a 25% to 40% commission out of the retail price. Many new mini-condos no longer have kitchens, other than a microwave and a single burner.

Tipping continues to be vexatious. The practice is no longer a reward for service. It has become nothing more than an obligatory, back-door salary bump. With credit-card terminals “suggesting” 15%, 20%, even 25% tipping surcharges, servers and restaurants showing nothing but naked greed.

Fight back! Tip only based on the service rendered — 10% for average, 15% for good service.

The success formula for restaurants is so simple, yet so elusive.  Consistent, excellent food at reasonable prices; knowledgeable and friendly servers;  clean toilets; front-of-house hosts who remember your name; Chefs who visit, if only for a few minutes, with regular customers.

Do those things right. Consider your restaurant your living room as you will basically live there. You will be successful.