Calgary should take a page out of Portland’s playbook


(Illustration by Wyatt Tremblay)

You don’t have to go very far in this town to find an “I heart Alberta beef” bumper sticker.

Alberta is, after all, a province that is very proud of itself, and nowhere is this truer than in Calgary.

We love our local businesses here, from the inexplicably popular Peters’ Drive-In to downtown’s Palomino Smokehouse.

It strikes me as odd, then, that Calgary is also a city that has become increasingly overgrown with large franchises whose headquarters are a world away.

Maddison Toy, a graduate of SAIT’s Baking and Pastry Arts program, who was recently featured in Branded Magazine’s Winter issue, and who works at the Marriott hotel downtown, argues that Calgarians are an uncomplicated people.

“The strength of the Calgary food scene is that a lot of restaurants are still trying to be local with their ingredients,” said Toy.

“The average Calgarian just wants good food and good ambience. I’d like to see more casual local restaurants.”

Perhaps, Toy suggests, Calgary would be better off if it had more places where you could go after work and grab something that isn’t always a burger or a sandwich.

And I saw just such a place this summer on a trip to Portland, Ore.

I was, admittedly, not thrilled with the idea of going to Portland at first. The city had once been described to me as a giant “I told you so”, where the only thing that people say unironically is “trigger warning.”

Despite my reluctance, the promise of good food and good beer by my girlfriend, another graduate of SAIT’s Baking and Pastry Arts program, lured me down.

The city I found was better than I could have imagined.

Yes, the city was littered with hipsters and social justice action centres. Beyond that, though, Portland’s streets were lined with creative and engaging local businesses.

One business, aptly named Voodoo Doughnuts, made gigantic doughnuts shaped like people. Everywhere you go, somebody seems to be carrying around one of their iconic pink boxes.

Salt and Straw made weird and wonderful ice creams flavoured with corn and parsnips and fennel, which were all surprisingly tasty.

Another business, named Living Room Theaters, is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a movie theatre, but it’s also a trendy bistro that will take your meal out to you while you watch your movie. Every seat is a large cushioned lounge chair, and your popcorn comes out in a porcelain bowl. Your movie ticket, lunch and a large bowl of popcorn costs $19.00.

How civilized is that?

And every restaurant told you where their ingredients were sourced. With every bite of food, you knew that you were supporting local businesses, and therefore helping the local economy.

Truly, though, the brightest jewel in Portland’s crown was its breweries and distilleries.

Seemingly every bar doubled as its own micro-distillery with dozens of inexpensive and unique craft beers.

For those not in the know, Portland sits in the middle of wine country and has an astounding 96 breweries in its metropolitan area. Add to that Portland’s 11 distilleries and you have an explanation for my blossoming drinking problem.

And each of these businesses is thriving, despite the recession.

Over my week in Portland, I drank 67 different beers and, with one exception, they all came from local breweries.

They weren’t expensive, and from what I can recall, they were all damn fine beers to boot.

That’s what happens when you take somebody who’s passionate about brewing beer and you give them the support they need to pursue that passion.

You don’t just end up with a better beer says Kelti Boissonneault, co-founder of Theoretically Brewing from Lethbridge, you get a better economy.

“Small brewers employ almost twice as many people per brewery as automated brewers do and work to create jobs that foster economic growth,” says Boissonneault.

From the farmers that Theoretically Brewing sources its ingredients from to the welders they hire to assemble their brewing equipment, Boissonneault says that they are doing what they can to help improve the local economy.

“We also believe that local businesses have a better track record for paying a living wage over your large super-corporations,” says Boissonneault. “In our business, our part-time associates make the same hourly wage as I do as CEO/Owner.”

So, I suggest that we stop waiting for Rachel Notley or Kevin O’Leary to save us from this recession. Politicians and business owners have been giving speeches about creating jobs for as long as anyone can remember.

The trouble is, though, that governments don’t make jobs any more than businesses do. You and I, as consumers, make jobs.

We are the demand that these economists are always talking about.

So go out and stimulate the economy a little this weekend. Go to a local bar and drink a local beer.

Because, when push comes to shove, it’s not enough just to “heart” Alberta beef, you have to eat it too.

Previous post

Music, arts and Canadian culture, amplified

Next post

Brewing change