Foodie's paradise

Urban Fare ventures outside of B.C.

Since first opening its doors in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighbourhood two decades ago, Urban Fare has been serving up an exceptional food experience to B.C. shoppers with its unique assortment of local, organic and first-to-market foods. Now, with its sixth location (which opened in late April), the upscale banner has brought its gourmet goodness to Calgary.

When determining exactly where to set up shop in Calgary, the store’s manager Todd McMullen says the community of Mount Royal and close proximity to the city’s popular 17th Avenue was the obvious choice. “17th Avenue is the place to be,” he says. “Drive down here and it’s very vibrant and there are so many restaurants; it’s all about food and it was a natural fit for Urban Fare.”

Mount Royal is also a neighbourhood brimming with historical charm, something the folks at Urban Fare took into account when creating the space. “We really wanted to make sure we integrated with the neighbourhood,” says McMullen. He describes the store’s design as a modern twist on the Queen Anne Revival architectural style found around the neighbourhood, like the Devenish, a heritage building located directly across the street. “The design of the store is definitely meant to complement the architecture of the area.”

Once inside the sleek, modern store, located on the main floor of a new condo tower just off lively 17th Avenue at 906 16th Avenue SW, customers will see plenty of touches that reference the neighbourhood’s heritage, including the black-and-white checkerboard floors, ornate tilework, crown molding and elegant brickwork.

But as striking and sophisticated as the design of the new store is, food is definitely the star of the show. A sign displayed prominently near the front of the store states Urban Fare’s mission, which is to provide “a unique food experience that is second to none”—an ambitious goal that the store works hard to deliver on. The nearly 27,000-sq.-ft. space is brimming with gourmet concepts including many not found in other Urban Fare locations, such as the banner’s first-ever wine and charcuterie bar. The concept was added to reinforce the message that the store is not only a place to shop for groceries, but it’s also a place where customers can sit back and relax with fine food and drink (in this case, local Alberta wines and beer).

“We’ve brought a number of things we wanted to try out into the new Calgary store,” says Darrell Jones, president of Save-On-Foods, the parent company of Urban Fare. Jones explains that when conceiving plans for the store, the company was inspired by Calgary’s vibrant local food scene.

Another feature unique to the Calgary location is a fresh poke bar where customers can scoop up pre-made fish and veggie bowls to go, or have one made-to-order featuring sushi-grade fresh salmon, tuna (albacore or ahi) or tofu. “The poke bar is a brand-new program for us and we thought it’s a natural fit here. We’ll probably roll it out to some of our other stores as well,” says McMullen.

Freshly prepared meals—either to take-away or to eat at the dine-in area—are a big focus at the store. Led by executive chef Ryan McDonald, an in-house team serves up an array of freshly prepared options ranging from gourmet sandwiches to house-made Napoli-style pizza and Ocean Wise sushi. There’s also a large hot food section where customers can load up on prepared items, from samosas to pasta dishes to crab cakes.

Customers shopping the store’s aisles will discover plenty of other specialties including fresh Wagyu beef, Beyond Meat sausages and burgers, and prepared sous-vide meats.

An old-fashioned butcher shop, an array of artisan breads and pastries and, according to the company, one of the largest cheese selections in the city are also part of the Urban Fare offer in Calgary. Sugarfina sweets are also available, as well as a full-service Starbucks.

But Jones is quick to point out that although it is brimming with specialties, Urban Fare also offers all the everyday basics customers need. “The whole concept of the store is ‘from gourmet to everyday,’” he explains. “And what I mean by that is there’s gourmet food and a gourmet feel, but things like Tide laundry detergent are the same price as at any other store in Calgary. The prices in the grocery store are what you’d normally pay, but the environment is special.”

While the company is making an investment in some new concepts at the Calgary Urban Fare, it’s also making a strong investment in the city as a whole. Urban Fare’s debut comes on the heels of two Save-On-Foods store openings in Calgary in just the last few months, all as the city struggles to find its identity in an economy that still hasn’t fully recovered from the oil and gas downturn.

“We see Calgary as a city with a bright future,” reveals Jones. “The time to invest is when times are tough. When things start to take off again, you’re already well established. It’s been a good opportunity for us to get great locations. We’ve been eyeing this location in Mount Royal for about five or six years.”

Customers, too, seem bullish on Urban Fare. The store opened at the end of April and response in the weeks immediately following the opening has been so strong, more employees were hired, and Jones says sales have been better than the company anticipated.

“Urban Fare is a unique banner that needs a specific neighbourhood. You have to have high density and an income level that works,” says Jones. “We will open more Urban Fares, but we need to find the right locations for them.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’June/July issue.

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