HicksBiz Blog

Quesnell construction quagmire: Hicks on Biz column, originally in Edmonton Sun May 25, 2012

It wasn’t quite a “I told you so” when Quesnell Bridge contractor ConCreate went bankrupt some weeks ago. But the folks at another major construction firm had an office pool going, taking bets on how far behind schedule the rehabilitation and widening of the massive Whitemud Drive bridge across the North Saskatchewan River would be. The worst-case bettors won. After massive pressure from the city, ConCreate finished the bridgework in November 2011, a year behind schedule. Four months later, the company went bankrupt. “A year behind schedule!” exclaims another bridge expert, whose company also lost the Quesnell contract to ConCreate. “Just imagine the value of drivers’ time, waiting to cross the bridge. Even at a loss of a minute a day, over 365 days, times 145,000 drivers, earning an average $20 an hour each.” Which is about $18 million. The $64,000 question — actually $10 million in contested costs with the now-bankrupt company’s b ... Read the rest of entry »

Nefeli's is classic Italian: Weekly Dish column Edmonton Sun May 22, 2012

In praise of classicism. Nefeli’s – way up in the northeast, in a new strip mall bordering the storm-lake communities north of 153rd Avenue – is all about old-fashioned, classic, Italian food. As it should be. Operating partner Joe Jamal Eddine is happily old-school, a career maître d' who understands customer retention is as much about hospitality as it’s about good food. Joe’s curriculum vitae goes back 25 years in Edmonton. He was maître d’ at the downtown Pazzo Pazzo for many years before striking out to do his own entrepreneurial thing at Nefeli’s with partner Chad Protasiewich. It’s only natural he has stayed with that which brought him to the dance, being traditional, delicious, plated Italian cuisine. You won’t find trendy at Nefeli’s (which means goddess of the clouds in Greek mythology).No wild pairings, no presentation of the month. Just fresh, creamy, bursting with flavour, traditional and formal Italian dishes. ... Read the rest of entry »

The business of the Oil Kings: Hicks on Biz column published in Edmonton Sun May 19, 2012

It's a peculiar business, this major junior hockey. After toiling in relative obscurity for five years, the Edmonton Oil Kings have made it to the Canadian Hockey League finals. But are they playing home games in a sold-out Rexall Place? Nope. The Memorial Cup finals consists of a four-team tournament, the play-off champions of the Western, Ontario and Quebec hockey leagues plus the host team. It's all happening in Shawinigan, Quebec. Each major junior hockey team is a business in which the stars — the best 16-to-20 year-old hockey players in the country other than those in the NHL — do not get paid. Their expenses are covered. They receive a weekly allowance, from a rookie's $100 to between $300 to $400 for three "over-age" 20-year-olds. I'm not aware of any other team sport in North America where for-profit businesses are built around teenage athletes. A third-world child labour activist could argue that major junior hockey club owners exploit children. But they wouldn't ... Read the rest of entry »

Wildflower Grill in full bloom: Weekly Dish review originally published in Edmonton Sun May 15, 2012

Here’s the kicker. Not only is the Wildflower Grill a contender as the top restaurant in town. Not only is the Wildflower Grill, south of Jasper on 107 Street, a pleasure to dine in. Not only does executive chef Nathan Bye insist on nothing but the best leaving his kitchen. It doesn’t have to be expensive! There’s a huge surprise on the Wildflower Grill’s menu. It’s called “lighter fare” in between the “small bites” and the “mains.” Lighter Fare offers 12 delicious, succulent, beautifully cooked dishes ranging in price from $12 to $18. They are perfect for lighter appetites — i.e. what we should all eat if we stayed within a daily calorie intake that doesn’t encourage the gaining of a pound a month. OK, as a reviewer, I had to try a “main” — the mesquite grilled salmon medallions at $36 to follow my beef carpaccio appetizer. The ladies opted for the lighter fare — a Canadian West ... Read the rest of entry »

Is housing the homeless a good investment? Hicks on Biz column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sat. May 12, 2012

It’s a hopeless economic proposition to prove or debunk.  That the $15 million spent in 2011, to house and support 1,789 formerly homeless Edmontonians within an umbrella of complementary social programs coordinated by The Edmonton Homeless Commission, is money well spent. The idea of this column was to look at the cost/benefit ratio of that $15 million not through compassionate eyes (for who can argue with any social program that relieves the misery, loneliness, mental and physical pain of those reduced to having no place to call home) but through practical eyes. In the third year of its 10 year mandate from city hall to end homelessness in Edmonton, the Homeless Commission announced last week that, over three years, 1,789 individuals who were once homeless are now housed. The “cost avoidance” argument can be easily proved. – before and after arguments are shut-and-dried. The newly housed, with the right social supports, do cost much less for emergency room use, ambulances, incar ... Read the rest of entry »

Manor Bistro is as good as ever: Graham Hicks Weekly Dish review, originally published Edmonton Sun, Wed. May 9, 2012

It’s an unjust world. Big box restaurants have massive marketing budgets for bland, warmed-up frozen food. The best restaurants in Edmonton — small and intimate, with superb chefs using local suppliers — can’t compete marketing-wise. Once past the trendy new restaurant stage, they can’t afford the advertising to stay top-of-mind. Pity. It’s the independents who deliver the very best dining that Edmonton has to offer. The Manor Bistro (originally the Manor Café) is almost 20 years old. The food, the ambience, the entire dining experience is as good, if not better, than ever. You cannot beat The Manor for location. In a former stately old home where 125 Street turns into an elm-lined lane south of Stony Plain Road, the main floor has been opened up to accommodate about 10 dining tables, the upstairs rooms converted into three popular group dining areas. The patio is drenched in dappled sunlight. The Manor has such longevity that chef/owner Cyrilles Koppert is ... Read the rest of entry »

Time to talk Upgraders: Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun on Sat. May 5, 2012

(This column originally appeared in the Edmonton Sun, entitled "Time to Talk Upgrades" with 17 comments as of May 7, 2012. Comments almost all decrying the shipping of oil sands bitumen without value-added processing in Alberta.) About six years ago Greater Edmonton was hot-to-trot about the possibility of seven upgraders being built (over time) in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland – the petrochemical industrial zone around Fort Saskatchewan. Such a vision it was: Seven super-sized, pre-refineries, taking in the molasses-like heavy oil or bitumen from the oilsands at one end, turning out sweet, easy flowing “synthetic” (or refinery-ready) oil at the other. Each upgrader would pump billions of new dollars into the local economy and keep the trades busy for decades without ever having to leave home. Once up and running, the upgraders would still continue to expand to handle the ever-growing bitumen supply, hire hundreds of operators, pay local taxes, and so on. With today’s techno ... Read the rest of entry »

Thumbs up for Suede Lounge: Weekly Dish review originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Wed. May 2, 2012

It's a pleasure to find a gentle, unpretentious, consistent place to eat.It's even more unusual when the establishment is actually a chameleon, a gastro-pub/lounge in the early evening, morphing into a nightclub as time goes by.Suede Lounge has managed to own this turf on the west end of Jasper Avenue (across the parking lot from Earl's Tin Palace) since Jeff Koltec opened the restaurant/lounge in 2004. He sold it last fall.The new owners, thank goodness, see no need for drastic change and have in fact brought in Chef Andrew Seguin from Calgary to maintain Suede's calling card of good, original food.The room is truly versatile. Modern without going overboard on trendiness, it's 60 seats or so, with a stand-up and mingle area, separated by a few stairs from the dining space.We dined at Suede Lounge as a most successful Art of Conversation LXVIII wound down in the stand-up area. While the crowd continued to socialize, the dining area didn't feel crowded or overwhelmed.Suede is known as a wine bar, but its menu ... Read the rest of entry »

Potpurri of fun: The Hot Chefs Cool bEATS food festival at the Shaw Conference Centre: Weekly Dish column originally published in the Edmonton Sun April 25, 2012

Hot Chefs Cool bEATS food festival, Shaw Conference Centre, April 21, 2012Food: 4 of 5Ambience: 4 of 5Service: 4 of 5Much like that re-invented Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, our culinary world evolves.Previous fundraisers for Culinary Team Canada — an Edmonton tradition thanks to long-time organizers Shaw Conference Centre Executive Chef Simon Smotkowicz and NAIT’s Vinod Varshney — were swish, gala events with fancy dresses, business attire and starched linen.Suddenly, it’s not about old-school elegance any longer.It’s about having fun, bringing out the kid in us.It’s about dropping the price tag, as fewer and fewer companies and individuals are willing to shell out for those $300-plus charity event tickets.Hats off to Hot Chefs Cool bEATS co-chairs Simon and Vinomania’s Gurvinder Bhatia.Like Premier Alison Redford’s campaign managers, they figured out where trends are going, and got there first.On Saturday evening, Hot Chefs Cool bEATS was one big, informal, fun street party — and all the better fo ... Read the rest of entry »

Wildrose bad for E-Town: My Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun on April 27, two days before the Conservative provincial election victory

If there is a Wildrose government come Monday night, will it be good or bad for the northern Alberta economy, good or bad for Edmonton?Good overall for Northern Alberta: The macro-economic policies of both Wildrose and the Conservatives are pro-business. The sustainable oilsands will stay solidly on the rails.Bad for Edmonton in particular.I say this with a heavy heart. A change of government, any change, after 40 years is attractive. Away with the PCs’ arrogance, entitlement and intimidation.But the most practical course for Edmontonians, to save our jobs, to prevent corporate pullouts to Calgary, to not be second-class citizens in our own province, is to hold our noses and vote Conservative.If Danielle Smith wins a majority government, those seats will come from Calgary, southern Alberta and maybe a few in northern Alberta.Nobody, including Wild-rose strategists, see a Wildrose seat from Edmonton.What happened in the past when governing parties in Alberta had strong majorities, but no representation from h ... Read the rest of entry »