HicksBiz Blog

Alberta's economy IS diversifying: Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Sept. 15, 2012

The mantra is repeated every day, everywhere.Alberta must cease being a one-trick pony dependent on the oil and gas industry, government mandarins murmur.Diversify, diversify, successive political party leaders shout out to their constituents.A funny thing has happened on the way to the Coliseum.Led by market forces, out-of-the-box thinking and judicious quasi-government priming, hundreds of new businesses are creating new wealth that will pay the taxes that will one day get our new arena/concert hall built.Here are four northern Alberta companies I have come across, outside the oil patch so creative, so promising, they do nothing but bode well for the future, for your kids' future careers.CLYW (formerly Caribou Lodge Yo Yo Works) (www.cariboublog.com)Edmonton is home to one of the world's top "return top" manufacturers. (The word "yo yo" is trademarked in Canada. "Yo-yoer" or "yo-yoing" is not.)Chris Mikulin's return tops are considered the Ferraris or Lamborghinis of the international yo-yoing world. They s ... Read the rest of entry »

Meals are Naanolicious: Weekly Dish column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sept. 12, 2012

Why didn't anybody think of this before?East Indian (South Asian) cooking is as deeply engrained into Canadian food habits as Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai, arguably more so if you look at the actual number of Indian restaurants in Edmonton — 59 by the Urbanspoon's website count.So why not create a new Canadian street food, combining the popular tastes of India with the style and price of pizza and fries?Which is precisely what Monica Kapur of the New Asian Village restaurant dynasty has done.Naanolicious, in the heart of Old Strathcona close by the Princess Theatre on Whyte Avenue, has great fun tossing together classic Western and South Asian staples.Naan is the delicious, light, slightly leavened Indian flatbread that one finds more and more outside the traditional East Indian setting.In Naanolicious's case, naan serves as a replacement for traditional pizza crust. You want fusion — try the Hawaiian (pineapple and ham), the pepperoni and mushrooms, or the meat lovers naan. You want traditional — Monica has ... Read the rest of entry »

Don't believe the economic spin!: Hicks on Biz originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sept. 8, 2012

There we went again.Hiring those Bachelorettes, or whatever they were, for $20,000 to hang here in Edmonton for a couple of days and gush positive in Tweets and Facebook postings and LinkedIns and Flickrs, created $200,000 in “earned media value.”So we are told by spin doctors with perfectly straight faces.Actually it was revised on Wednesday, to 32 million social media “hits” worth $550,000!Economic development/tourism folks kill their credibility by placing such absurd value on something that’s impossible to evaluate.The theory is these happy hired guns, waxing poetic about Edmonton via social media, will lead to “heightened awareness” of our mid-sized Canadian prairie city best known for Wayne Gretzky and West Edmonton Mall.“Heightened awareness,” the argument goes, indirectly leads to more visitors, spending more money. And, even more theoretical, “heightened awareness” make Edmonton more attractive when city-based employers are competing for specialized employees.The silliness of placing a dollar value o ... Read the rest of entry »

Master chef is quite a character: Weekly Dish column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sept. 5, 2012

Characters Fine Dining, 10257 105 St. 780 421-4100 www.characters.ca It is delightful to head to a restaurant where the chef is in full control, is a true master of the kitchen, and likes to have fun.When an extremely young Shonn Oborowsky returned from European and Asian chef apprenticeships, he opened Characters on 105 Street.It’ll never work, scoffed skeptical foodies. The kid’s just been given a toy by his parents. (Dad Don Oborowsky owns Waiward Steel, both Don and Shonn’s mom Judy are community leaders.) Edmonton’s not ready for another high-end restaurant, they said.Well. 13 years later, Characters is not only still here, it’s thriving.And certainly, after our fine-dining experience last week, Characters must be included in any list of Edmonton’s Top 10 restaurants.Characters is in its own stand-alone building, a single-story former warehouse on 105 Street a few blocks north of Jasper. The 50-something crowd may remember Night Fever dancing here, when it was the Sugar Tree discotheque. ... Read the rest of entry »

Picking the right mobile carrier can save customers hassle and big bucks: Graham Hicks' Hicks on Biz column, originally published in Edmonton Sun Sept. 1, 2012

I have a smartphone made by a once-mighty cellphone manufacturer, on a major Canadian mobility carrier’s three-year contract.A year-and-a-half ago, the phone was considered at the top of the smartphone pile.Today, I’m counting the months to the end of the contract. Not because of the carrier, but because this phone has been overtaken by superior competing mobile phone manufacturers. It takes forever to access the Internet, is slow to load websites, and too often the words aren’t formatted to fit my device’s screen.Welcome to the world of lightning change, called cellphones.How do you decide what carrier/network to use, what phone to buy, when things change so quickly?I’m hoping this Hicks on Biz – consumer’s edition – will help you make an informed choice.If I was starting over today, here are some of the things I’d look into. The network I want a carrier that has coverage right across Canada, no matter where I am. The most extensive networks belong to the Big Three – TELUS, Bell and Rogers. Generally speakin ... Read the rest of entry »

Violina a classical delight: Graham Hicks Weekly Dish column originally published in the Edmonton Sun Aug. 29, 2012

There’s going out for dinner.Then there’s dining out.Violino Gastronomica Italiana should be an all-evening affair, best experienced with those whose company one truly enjoys, whose culinary expectations equal one’s own.The atmosphere in the beautiful old mansion on High Street lends itself to the spirit of dining out. It once housed La Spiga, before Vince and Connie Cultraro uprooted to Palm Springs.The tables are set for classical dining, with linen tablecloths and napkins, multi-course cutlery, sparkling wine glasses and discreet waiters in suits or tuxedos.As is so often the case in Edmonton, fine dining at Violino’s is Italian. The menu moves from primi piatti (first plates) to zuppa e insalata (soups and salads), pasta e risotto (pastas and risotto-style rice), manzo e pesce (meat and fish), finishing with dolci (dessert).Our party of four is at Violino’s to eat well.And we do.The beginning is auspicious, with one of the finest antipasto misto platters I have ever sampled. In formal Italian cuisine, ant ... Read the rest of entry »

Alberta over a barrel? Hicks on Biz, originally published in Edmonton Sun, Aug. 25, 2012

By Graham HicksHopefully this is a Chicken Little column, harking back to that little piece of poultry, who, certain the world was coming to an end, ran around crying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”Chicken Little was wrong, of course.But something doesn’t feel right about the soothing words we are hearing from Alberta’s economic forecasters, that good times will roll along in Alberta for the foreseeable future, i.e. at least for another 12 months.It is, surprise, surprise, all about the price of oil.About 2.5 million barrels a day are sucked out of Alberta ground and exported at a price ranging between $70 to $100 a barrel, creating $200 to $300 million in new wealth every day.No other industry employs as many people, no other industry pays half as well, no other industry earns as much revenue for government, no other industry has anywhere near oil’s impact on our standard of living.Our energy wealth continues to shower goodness upon us, despite the fact the once-mighty natural gas industry is on i ... Read the rest of entry »

Fringe food: Mixed reviews: Weekly Dish, originally published Edmonton Sun, Aug. 21, 2012

By Graham HicksNobody really knows how many people wander through the Fringe in Old Strathcona for these fading days of summer, from last Thursday to this coming Sunday. The daily attendance figures are an “educated guess.”But enough growly stomachs traipse through to attract 21 on-site food venders, shelling out up to $6,000 for the right to sell at the Fringe. Most of the vendors return, despite the competition both at the Fringe and off-site in Old Strathcona.I, for one, hate wasting money on lousy street food – the greasy, lukewarm stuff that leaves you with a big lump in your tummy and follow-up problems of passage. So here’s a quick guide to the good, the great and the to-be-avoided on the Fringe food front.Forget the myth. Decent green onion cakes cannot be had at the Fringe. Green onion cakes were an Edmonton festival legend when Siu To, currently running Noodlemaker, and his family made them from scratch. The task became too daunting for Siu once his kids had their own careers.The current green onion ... Read the rest of entry »

Edmonton doesn't exist?! Hicks on Biz, originally published Edmonton Sun, August 17, 2012

By Graham HicksIt’s an annual insult.Every year around this time, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s releases its report on the world’s most livable cities with much fanfare. The Economist is a leading international news and business magazine.Every year, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto make it in the Top 10. This year, Montreal was the only other Canadian city included, coming in at 16th.No Edmonton.A few years back, tired of this slight, I asked the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation why we didn’t rate, even though Edmonton and Calgary come out neck-and-neck in any survey of Canada’s livable cities.The answer, finally dug out of the Economist people, was that since Calgary and Edmonton were in such close proximity, only one needed to be scrutinized, and it was going to be Calgary.We were not even considered for the list! In the eyes of the authors of this prestigious survey, Edmonton does not exist.There’s an argument for not worrying about lack of recognition – why fret over how others see us, when we ... Read the rest of entry »

Dipping into the delectable Melting Pot: Weekly Dish, originally published Edmonton Sun, Aug. 8, 2012

By Graham HicksThe Melting Pot of Edmonton, 2920 Calgary Trail NW780-465-4DIP (4347)www.meltingpot.com Food: 4 of 5 starsAmbience: 2.5 of 5 starsService: 4 of 5 stars Dinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $50; fully loaded, $90The Melting Pot has earned a fine reputation in this town since opening about two years ago, the first Canadian outlet of a successful American fondue restaurant group.No wonder!Unlike so many chains, the Melting Pot does not scrimp on quality, not in the least.The fondues use real cheeses, Fontina, Butterkase, Gruyere and Emmenthaler that cost an arm and a leg in local delis.Cost-cutting isn't happening in the meat and fish selections cooked at the table. The initial preparation is first-rate.The concept, on first glance, looks preposterous.People pay to sit around pots of either melted cheese or broth, stick chunks of bread (for the cheese) or raw meat on skewers and joist for cooking space in the central hot pot? Right!If grandma doesn't accidentally stab herself with the skewer ... Read the rest of entry »