It's kind of like the North End Forks with heart.
—Iain Brynjolson, produce manager
Feed diners local, traditional and healthy food.
That's the simple philosophy behind Neechi Commons' new restaurant, which opens March 20 with a ceremonial blessing for the entire project.
The 60-seat cafeteria-style eatery will serve home style, from-scratch meals and neighbourhood specialties, says Talia Syrie, food services manager at the new North End grocery store and bakery.
"This [menu] is a bit of a shout out to my grandparents and grandparents in general," she says during a sneak peek tour of the new restaurant. She is in the midst of training her 20 or so restaurant and catering staff, many of whom are Aboriginal people living in the neighbourhood.
Some have food preparation experience while others are completely new to kitchen life. It's also the first time Syrie, who owns The Tallest Poppy restaurant, has taken on such a massive project from the ground up, as she says, "we're all learning together."
The culturally diverse neighbourhood is populated with Ukranian, Aboriginal, Hungarian, Polish and Eastern Europeans, to name a few. Syrie, who's Jewish, will also bring that culinary sensibility to the mix. Slow-cooked meats, soups, stews and casseroles will be mainstays on the menu. Locally raised and grown bison, elk, pickerel, wild rice, blueberries and root vegetables will also be featured.
The new 865 Main Street centre, the former home of California Fruit Market, has undergone extensive renovations to transform two attached, circa 1903 and 1904 buildings. The $5 million project has been lauded for its commitment to hiring Aboriginal people and its revitalization of the oft-derided neighbourhood.
"It's kind of like the North End Forks with heart," says Neechi's produce manager Iain Brynjolson. "I've been waiting years for this," adds customer and longtime area resident Adrian Stoness. "They've really upped the ante in supporting the community."
On February 9, the co-operative began a phased-in opening of its grocery, bakery and catering departments. Plans are in the works to add a butcher shop, specialty-foods boutique, art gallery and fish market.