Getting the White Rose ready to bloom into newest eatery in Bowness

They've been referred to as Calgary's culinary power couple. Now the pair are looking to bloom in Bowness.

Named after gas station that used to be on the site

Dwayne and Alberta Ennest inside the White Rose. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

They've been referred to as Calgary's culinary power couple, but Dwayne and Alberta Ennest could not be more friendly and approachable — the same can be said of their food, and contributions to the city's restaurant scene.

The two met at River Cafe back at the turn of the millennium when Dwayne was executive chef — he's also been in the kitchen at Teatro and Mescelaro — and Alberta worked and managed the front of house.

They married 15 years ago and just three months later opened Diner Deluxe on Edmonton Trail, which quickly and firmly established itself as the place to go early on in Calgary's breakfast boom.

They expanded to open Urban Baker on the corner, Open Range and Big Fish further up the street, and the tiny Vue Cafe in the Virginia Christopher gallery on 11th Ave. S.W.

Urban Baker has since closed, Diner Deluxe sold, and so did Vue along with the gallery.

They still own Open Range and Big Fish, but it's been 10 years since they launched something new. They've had their eye on Bowness, which has plenty of character and potential, and is close to their home in Varsity.

"This is our retirement business," Dwayne says of their latest project, a vegetarian restaurant with a huge footprint on Bowness Road with a large patio and a shipping container transformed into a takeout barbecue joint out front.

The restaurant itself is called White Rose after the gas station that once occupied the building back in the 1950s — the signage (and vintage pumps) are waiting in the building next door to return to their original home.

The gas pump and some memorabilia from the former White Rose gas station in Bowness. The building is being converted into a restaurant. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

The building's owners, brothers Jim Jr. and Brian Sibthorpe, are true Bownesians — they were born and raised in Bowness, and their parents opened Bow Cycle in 1957. They understood Dwayne and Alberta's vision for the space — but even Dwayne and Alberta needed convincing.

"We walked in here and it was like, this can't be a restaurant. It's disgusting," Dwayne recalls of the building that was most recently an auto body shop.

"It was in shambles. It had oil-soaked ground and bits of junk everywhere. They had to redo the water lines — everything. Most people would have torn it down and built something modern and new, but they liked the idea of maintaining its heritage."

They stripped the building down to the drywall and started fresh, installing a brand new kitchen and open bar but choosing new vintage fixtures and keeping the rolling windows at the front as a reminder of its previous life.

"Alberta has always wanted to do a vegetarian restaurant," Dwayne says of their departure from Open Range, a steak house specializing in local beef, lamb and game.

"And there isn't much chef-driven vegetarian cuisine in Calgary. So it's going to be modern, fresh, complex."

Dwayne designed $12 and $18 plates to share family-style in the 55-seat restaurant, allowing for everyone at the table to experience more of the dishes that range from Yorkshire pudding to crispy halloumi to crispy ricotta cakes to roasted eggplant with chimichurri.

Currently, there are only three menu items that contain gluten. There's a short dessert list, and they do Sunday brunch.

"The food is geared toward being satisfying for non-vegetarians," he says.

"A lot of people just want to eat healthy, and that's part of it too."

Exterior of the soon-to-be-open White Rose restaurant in Bowness. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Although the site is still under construction — they're down to the details — antique tables, lamps and wardrobes are already in place in each room.

"Some of these used to be my mom's," Alberta says of her mother, gallery owner Virginia Christopher, who passed away just over a year ago. "It's like part of her is here."

To contrast the veggie-heavy indoor menu, they'll be smoking up to 300 pounds of meat at a time out front.

"The smoker was originally supposed to be in a funky little trailer parked out back," Dwayne says of the Coal Shed.

"Just for people who knew it was there."

But having been a service station, there was plenty of usable space between the front of the building and the sidewalk.

The city struggled with a designation for the 20-feet container, retro-fitted with a full kitchen and smoker. 

"It's computer controlled," Dwayne says. "I can control it with my iPhone from home."

Ultimately, city officials labeled it a food truck.

"Everything can be disconnected and moved within an hour," Dwayne says of the setup, which has heated floors to weather the winter and its own hot water tank in the corner.

"So it falls under the food truck guidelines, but it will be the first of many — people are going to do this a lot now."

Besides pulled pork sandwiches, they'll be smoking, grilling and braising ribs, chicken, prime rib, short ribs, bison and lamb shanks, with sides like smoked potato salad, yam sage cornbread and jalapeño jack mac and cheese.

None of the meat will make its way into the White Rose kitchen, but a long room jutting out from the kitchen toward the Coal Shed will offer a communal table for events — and at times for people who want to come inside to eat.

Dwayne Ennest stands inside the Coal Shed. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

The enormous 24-seat patio, well situated on the busy stretch of Bowness Road by the library, will have plenty of green space and will open soon after the restaurant does — they hope sometime in mid-July.

One side will be bordered by the iconic Bowness Streetcar, which between 1913 and 1950 shuttled Calgarians from city centre eight miles out to Bowness, which was its own small town until the city absorbed it in 1964.

After spending decades at Heritage Park transporting visitors from the parking lot, the Sibthorpe brothers bought and reconditioned the streetcar to bring back to its original neighbourhood as a covered, character outdoor seating area, helping convert the space into a natural courtyard.

"There's already this synergy down here," Dwayne says of the people and businesses they share their new neighbourhood with, who have been supportive of this new addition to their community.

"There's always so much going on. We can't wait to be a part of it."

For more information about White Rose Vegetarian Kitchen and the Coal Shed, visit their website.


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.