Halifax’s year in food was a whole smorgasbord | Food | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Halifax’s year in food was a whole smorgasbord

From a flood of new restaurants and cafes opening their doors to a citywide labour shortage, 2022 saw a bit of everything in Halifax’s food scene.

Call it anything you want, but Halifax’s year of cafe, bar and restaurant openings, closings, re-openings and industry gossip certainly wasn’t boring.

The year 2022 brought our fine Atlantic city a chef’s plateful of new waterfront restaurants, a weeklong war over pizza, an ownership change to a north end institution and a labour shortage (or shitty workplace epidemic?) that left many restaurants scrambling to keep their doors open. And that’s just the frosting on the donut.

Mea culpa: This won’t be the exhaustive list of everything that’s happened in Halifax in the last year—for that, we’d need a much longer list—but here’s the stuff you should know.

The openings

Ask Vanessa Bélanger, chef de cuisine at Café Lunette in the Queen’s Marque (1741 Lower Water Street, suite 160), and—if her guard is down—she’ll concede the way Haligonians have embraced her Parisian-inspired bistro has been a “little bit unexpected” since its opening in March. In its first year of business, The Coast’s readers voted Bélanger’s French food venture the Best New Restaurant in 2022.

“I'm not surprised about it,” she says, catching herself as she speaks with The Coast. “Because our food is great. But it's been so great to see how many people are loving it.”

click to enlarge Halifax’s year in food was a whole smorgasbord
Photo: Martin Bauman / The Coast
The Coast’s readers named Café Lunette the Best New Restaurant in Halifax in 2022.

You’ll find coffee and pastries at Café Lunette, along with a healthy wine list. But if regulars have anointed one favourite, Bélanger adds, it’s the boeuf bourguignon. “It’s the restaurant on a plate,” she says. “You get this beautiful beef that’s been braised overnight that just falls apart—and it’s just so comforting and rich.”

Lunette isn’t the only new venture to have opened just off the waterfront. Across the Queen’s Marque, the Latin-inspired Bar Sofia (1709 Lower Water Street, suite 104) opened its dining room in February—then followed with its Instagram-ready patio over the summer. The East Mediterranean-infused Daryâ (1709 Lower Water Street, suite 110) unveiled its mezze-style menu (think shareable plates) in November.

The rest of the city has kept pace. From pasta to pizza and street noodles to Korean coffee, Halifax saw its share of cafes and restaurants opening (or adding new locations) in 2022. The quick-service Chanoey’s Pasta, a Dartmouth favourite since 2020, opened its second location in January at 6214 Quinpool Road. The Provençale Lou Pécou (5567 Cunard Street) brought its gourmet pizzas to the north end that same month.

click to enlarge Halifax’s year in food was a whole smorgasbord
Photo: Lou Pécou / Instagram (@lou.pecou)
Damn, that pizza looks good.

Coffee and pastry lovers Terra Cafe (1496 Lower Water Street) and Suda Table (5520 Almon Street) arrived on the scene in February. Kickstarter success story The Narrows Public House (2720 Gottingen Street) followed in March, and noodle hub Broth House (1588 Granville Street) has been slinging its steamy bowls since April. Salumeria Pane e Circo, a hotspot for meats, cheeses and sourdough loaves, expanded from Bishop’s Landing to a second location at the corner of Queen Street and Spring Garden Road the same month. Fall’s been no less busy: Stillwell Brewing opened at 3670 Kempt Road in September. In late October, Halifax got a queer bar again—the city’s first since Menz and Mollyz closed two and a half years ago—when the 2SLGBTQ+-led Indulge opened its doors at 2182 Gottingen Street. And in early December, the restaurateurs behind Field Guide opened their newest venture, Fawn, at 1589 South Park Street.

The closings

The year was a difficult one for a pair of north end mainstays: Vandal Doughnuts and the Mid-East Food Centre.

The first rumblings of trouble for the Mid-East Food Centre—a staple for 15 years at the corner of North and Agricola streets—came in July, when owner Abdulsalam Mohammad told Global News that his lease was coming to an end. His building’s landlord was raising the rent. The change was expected to cost him an additional $1,000 to $2,000 per month. That, combined with the cost of food (much of which he imported from overseas) was a bridge too far for Mohammad.

click to enlarge Halifax’s year in food was a whole smorgasbord
Photo: Martin Bauman / The Coast
The Mid-East Food Centre closed its doors in 2022, but owner Abdulsalam Mohammad has maintained that he aims to re-open in a new location in 2023.

The store closed in September.

“This is life,” he told CBC News. “Up and down.”

Muhammad has stressed the closure is only temporary. As of late November, according to a response from the business’s Google account, the cafe was still “taking custom orders for restaurants and other shops.” Muhammad has spoken previously about the possibility of reopening at a new location—maybe even on Agricola—in May 2023.

But as 2022 comes to an end, no word has followed about a reopening. The Coast’s phone calls to the Mid-East Food Centre’s publicly listed number went unanswered in early December.

Down at Gottingen and Cornwallis streets, word of Vandal Doughnuts’ closure spread in October after passersby noticed the pink graffiti-covered building’s lights hadn’t been on in a while.

Owner Jens Heidenreich told The Coast that, while yes, the store is indeed closed, rumours of its demise are overblown. Staffing issues had been at the core of the matter: There were just two employees as of October, and one was a part-timer. Heidenreich had opted to close up shop until he could hire more bakers.

“And in the meantime, while we can’t provide a consistent product, we shouldn’t be doing that,” he said. “So that’s it: We’re temporarily closed, because we don’t want to dissatisfy anybody.”

click to enlarge Halifax’s year in food was a whole smorgasbord
Photo: Martin Bauman / The Coast
Vandal Doughnuts has been quiet since October 2022.

He conceded that wages had been a difficulty: Some of Vandal’s workers had left for other gigs that paid more “than we could justify in the current market environment.” (In recent months, he said, new front-of-house hires were earning Nova Scotia’s minimum wage of $13.60 per hour.) While he told The Coast that he’s “quite sympathetic” to the discussion of a living wage, he maintained that there’s “a large degree of naivety” around how a small business would make ends meet if it paid its staffers more.

The reopenings and ownership changes

November brought the welcome return of two Halifax institutions: Fish and chips mecca John’s Lunch (352 Pleasant Street) and budget-friendly sushi spot Wasabi House (6403 Quinpool Road) reopened their dining rooms after nearly three years of pandemic-prompted take-out-only service. (Once again: Thanks for nothing, COVID.)

click to enlarge Halifax’s year in food was a whole smorgasbord
Lenny Mullins
John’s Lunch co-owners Irene Baltas and Kathy Hilchey, Best of Halifax 2022 gold winner of Best Fish & Chips

“We can’t wait to see people like normal. So we’re happy about that,” Wasabi House chef and owner Richard Wu told The Coast in early December.

“We talked about it every day, opening up for dining,” added server Christine Dedrick, who called it “a big exciting thing” that staff had been waiting for the go-ahead on. The Best of Halifax favourite rolled out a new-look dining room and fresh menus to mark the occasion.

Across the Common, another Halifax darling saw new life when Dee Dee’s Ice Cream founder Ditta Kisdan announced she was passing the torch after 20 years and retiring.

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The Coast
Dee Dee's Ice Cream, located on Cornwallis Street, changed owners in June.

Kisdan told The Coast she “could not have chosen better people” in her replacements, Jenna Mooers and Lindsay MacPhee. Prior to Dee Dee’s, Mooers launched Edna Restaurant and managed her mom’s restaurant Jane’s on the Common. She’s also the brains behind CHKN CHOP. MacPhee founded The Floatation Centre.

The Cornwallis Street corner hub still has the same charm since two took over in mid-June. Mooers—who scoops the ice cream now—calls it an honour to carry on the shop’s legacy.

“I grew up in the north end and now I live a block away from Dee Dee’s, and I just feel like when people think about that area… for most Haligonians Dee Dee’s comes to mind,” she told The Coast. “It’s just a really wonderful community spot that kind of brings the city together, and I'm just happy to be a part of that.”

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention another north end institution’s ownership change: Cornwallis Street landmark Joe Thomeh’s Kwik-Way changed hands in May after Thomeh, the founding owner, announced he was retiring after 46 years. Happy retirement, Joe.

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Ian Selig
In 2022, Joe Thomeh (left) passed the Kwik-Way on to a new generation of owners, Clara (middle) and Danny Vo.

The war on pizza

Nothing brought Halifax together—or divided it, slice by slice—quite as much as pizza in 2022. All hell broke loose when HRM council introduced a bylaw to force late-night convenience stores in residential neighbourhoods to close at 11pm.

The problem, District 7 councillor Waye Mason told his colleagues, was pizza. The late-night stores selling it “can be quite disruptive to the community,” he said, “especially if they're serving pizza and have a lot of folks coming back from downtown, congregating outside eating said pizza.”

The bylaw’s first reading passed unanimously. It also succeeded in pissing off students, who deemed it a personal attack on two popular family-run south end haunts: Triple A and Jubilee Junction. Both have been fixtures at the corner of Jubilee Road and Preston Street since the late 1980s—and since the advent of their pie-slinging, the two have become a mini Pizza Corner.

The bylaw, it appeared to anyone who bothered to look, was designed specifically to prevent those two stores from staying open late. (Triple A owner John Amyoony told The Coast that about 50% of his sales happen after 11pm.) A staff report on the bylaw said five stores across Halifax would have to change their hours, but a Coast investigation found the other three stores affected by the bylaw—if it should pass—already closed before 11pm.

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The Coast
Jubilee Junction owner Michael Habib with pages of signatures—we've obscured names and addresses—in support of the store.

Both Amyoony and Jubilee Junction’s owner, Michael Habib, gathered hundreds of signatures calling for the bylaw’s rejection in the days that followed. As of December, the proposed bylaw has yet to pass.

The year of labour issues

Job vacancies were the hospitality industry’s favourite talking point in 2022. Nova Scotia had more than 4,065 openings in accommodations and food services in the second quarter this year, according to the latest Statistics Canada report.

“We probably have never seen anything like this in the history of the restaurant industry in Nova Scotia,” Gordon Stewart, the executive director of Restaurants Association of Nova Scotia, told CBC News in August. He estimated 80% of the province’s restaurants had to scale back their services due to staffing shortages.

But as chef Harpreet Jagdeo told The Coast, there’s a reason kitchens are empty: The pay isn’t good enough.

After working in Halifax’s restaurant scene for years—at times, juggling three kitchen gigs at once—Jagdeo left Halifax and moved home to Vancouver in search of better wages in 2019.

“I couldn't make it anymore. I couldn't do it,” Jagdeo told The Coast. It got to the point where even taking the bus was too expensive for what they were earning. “I couldn't struggle and constantly worry about when my next pay cheque was gonna come—and I was burnt out. I didn't want to trade my passion for that anymore.

“The kitchen work [in Halifax] is plenty, but the money is awful, awful, awful.”

It’s too early to tell if the tide has turned. Statistics Canada has yet to reveal job vacancy figures for 2022’s third and fourth quarters. But Julianne Steeves, who left her serving job in April for an office job, sees an easy solution: “Pay people more and they'll be happy to work for you. Pay people more and it'll attract the right people who want to stay there.”

—With files from Kaija Jussinoja

Martin Bauman

Martin Bauman, The Coast's News & Business Reporter, is an award-winning journalist and interviewer, whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Capital Daily, and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize...
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