WFP Column: Duets – A seat at the table
Duets: A seat at the table – Dining and design create appetite for community collaboration
Everyone designs. From inspired entrepreneurs full to the brim with ideas for our city to the many pop-up shops that have emerged in our downtown. From the local coffee shop on the corner to the delicate, delicious artisan pastries that we can’t help but devour, design is everywhere. Duets is an exclusive Winnipeg Free Press monthly series that pairs design experts with local champions and innovators to brainstorm new opportunities for civic building. Duets is written by HTFC Planning & Design’s Jason Syvixay, with imagery and photography provided by Kal Barteski and David Moder Photography.
A seat at the dinner table can be just like a seat at the drafting table for Max Frank, Maureen Krauss and Danielle Loeb. Kal Barteski, the talented artist behind the featured Duets graphics, agrees.
Frank, chef and manager of Have a Nice Day, has always had an appetite for food and fun. If not in the kitchen, he can be found on sheet six of the local curling club ordering a rye-and-ginger and a plate of curly fries.
Krauss, one of five principals at HTFC Planning & Design, attended the University of Manitoba, achieving degrees in fine arts and English literature. After a successful career at FortWhyte Alive and operating an art gallery in the Exchange District, Maureen transitioned to HTFC, as it was instrumental in shaping the FortWhyte landscape. “That’s how I made the connection. I saw the diverse things they were doing and thought, ‘Hey, this could be my next career, my next me.’”
Loeb, who recently received her full membership to the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, pursued her graduate studies in Winnipeg, turning down an opportunity to study in Vancouver. “I stayed, because I prefer Winnipeg — it’s a beautiful city with a lot of potential and I wanted to be part of that.”
The trio sat down to talk ‘city do-it-yourself’ — Winnipeg’s recent embrace of pop-up initiatives serving up great foodand design. Sampling the creative and playful menu at Have a Nice Day (at 625 Portage Ave.), they also contend that when Winnipeg neighbourhoods build longer tables, not higher fences, it creates an appetite for civic pride and community collaboration.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your menu?
● Frank: We wanted a departure from the pizza shop that used to be here (The Good Will Social Club) — something that could appeal to all of the different walks of life that come into this space. It’s very eclectic in this neighbourhood — you see young families, artists, tons of musicians — and with that comes vegetarians, vegans, all sorts of different desires. That was the main inspiration. But also to be quick and delicious.
● Krauss: It must be hard coming into a space where someone else was before.
● Frank: There’s always that comparison. It lessens and lessens over time I think.
● Krauss: You eventually shed it and make it your own.
● Loeb: I love how you said before that your business is meant to be whimsical and fun. I love that because it really makes you want to try the food. When you see the names, the descriptions, and then the food — you really want to try it.
What is your favourite item on the menu?
● Frank: I really like the Francheezie. That was inspired by a Mexican street food, called the Danger Dog. That’s a riff off of the Chicago hot dog but mine is stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon. So it’s my own little spin of Mexican street food, which is based on classic Chicago street food. So I think it’s really fun and it emphasizes how eclectic this space and the menu is.
How important is finding the right “fit” when it comes to tenants and their retail space?
● Krauss: I think Have a Nice Day has the right level of polish and I think that’s important. It has to feel right for the neighbourhood. When a business is trying too hard to be what it’s not, you can tell and it doesn’t work.
● Loeb: I like how it’s so close for university students yet there are still families and people who work around the neighbourhood — so it’s there for everybody. I like what you said, Maureen, about how it’s that certain polish because at the same time I would compare it to that New York-style restaurant. I can come in here and get some greasy food or a nice afternoon lunch. You can have it any time of the day. It’s so different than anything in the city, and it fills so many niches.
● Krauss: There’s a place in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown, a little breakfast place. Do you know it?
● Loeb: I do know it! Is it Al’s Breakfast?
● Krauss: It’s the same formula when you think about it. They have a long counter, and people cue up to get to the front to get a fried egg! It’s just the right place and the right fit.
Nils Vik from Parlour Coffee helped steward the local coffee scene, but has always strived towards collaboration with other coffee shops that opened up. How important is partnership between other entrepreneurs? How important is partnership with other professionals in your industry?
● Frank: For me, it’s incredibly important. I think it’s important to draw on different experiences, different passions, and different expertise to come up with a polished product. When we were doing our pop-up dining experience, Tabled Manners, we were four like-minded but also different-thinking people. We knew our strengths and we all had our opinions, but when we would come together and things worked we always ended up with a better product. I think, in my specific experience, you’re always wanting to pull strengths from different people: business, design, branding, and that sort of thing — so you have a lot of strengths to draw upon.
● Krauss: We always look to allied professionals but sometimes we look to people who have a specific level of expertise that we need. Forming that team and that partnership is essential to the end product. In the end, we personally grow from it. So whether we partner with an elder up north who knows the community as no one else could know, or partner with an architect who is located in a major urban centre, we’re all taking something from it, and we grow from it.
● Loeb: There are a lot of the initiatives and events, like RAW:almond, bringing together chefs from all around the world, or even Cool Gardens with architects and designers. It gives you the opportunity to team up with other people in your own profession.
● Frank: There’s a lot of community here. I see it in my industry, obviously. Especially in the coffee scene, people are helping each other out. I haven’t lived in these circles in other cities. But what I have heard from my friends, it’s not like this everywhere.
● Krauss: It’s unique to Winnipeg. We’re the right-size fit to support this kind of collaboration. Winnipeg is a testing ground for new ideas.
What food or design innovation do you think will be the next craze in Winnipeg?
● Frank: It’s hard to say. I’m surprised that the taco fad hasn’t hit Winnipeg yet. I love tacos. Grand Electric in Toronto and Tacofino in Vancouver, two of my favourites. I don’t know if I think it will be the next fad, I’m just surprised it hasn’t hit Winnipeg yet — I hope it does!
● Krauss: I think we’re going to see micro-homes and microenvironments. We’re seeing it in big cities where there are issues with affordability and limited space. Generally, we have an over-inflated feeling of personal space that we need. So now we’re starting to see a lot more communal tables and we’re starting to dine elbow-to-elbow, where we never did before. We never did that, five or 10 years ago.
● Frank: It’s way more fun.
● Krauss: It’s way more convivial. We’re getting way more comfortable with this. You see it with the renaissance with The Forks food court — you see business people taking their laptops; parking their laptops at these longer tables. And long tables share long-table stories.
● Loeb: I think as the younger generations are coming up, the whole suburban is almost on its out. When you see people who are buying homes in the suburbs, it’s not young people, it’s not young families, it’s people who have moved to Winnipeg, it’s multigenerational families. I feel like as the generations continue to come forward, it’ll happen less and less that people are moving outside the city. Max’s restaurant aims for a “fast casual” feel.
How can we create spaces that accommodate conversation and community in our fast-paced lives?
● Loeb: The Common at The Forks is such a great example. Now you can just go grab some food, grab a beer and sit wherever you’d like. You can stand in line, meet strangers, sit at a table, and connect with people you’ve never seen before. For such a long time, furniture and spaces have been designed to keep people moving; preventing people from loitering or sitting longer at a bus bench — but now, it’s like there’s a switch. I’m hoping that it happens more in the public realm.
● Krauss: The long table and our acceptance of it now. Or a place where there is a common task, like a laundromat — there’s lots of time in between the wash and dry to chat. You just need great seating and design that makes it comfortable to do so.
● Frank: Comfort is so important.
How important is it for cities to inspire young people to create? How can this be done?
● Loeb: It’s extremely important. Whether it’s the city or a general support group — friends, family, design community, or financial support — it is really important. Otherwise you are getting stuck with the same thing. Young people don’t want to design big box stores. They design cool shops that activate the street.
● Frank: And you want to support your peers, too. As a young person, I’d rather go to a store that’s owned by a friend of mine, or friend of a friend, or support someone that is doing something unique, different, exciting, and modern.
● Krauss: You want to know the person across the counter.
● Loeb: Knowing you’re supporting a local shop rather than a conglomerate.
● Krauss: I think people are seeking that everywhere. People want a back story: where it came from, who made it, where it was made, and how did it get here?
● Barteski: I also think it’s a reflection of the political state of everything. Build a longer table, not a higher fence. Right? It’s really important. It’s polarizing people. We have this philosophy. We couldn’t find childcare when my kids were little. I am an artist and so I needed a flexible situation. So we got together with a group of families and hired a nanny, who we could offer full-time support over four families, and we opened our house so anyone from the street could bring their kids to that nanny. No pressure, no contract, no anything. It was this idea of building a longer table, instead of sitting in your car for three-hours to drive your kids to a far away daycare.
● Frank: And that could only happen through community and through talking with your neighbours.
● Loeb: I remember going to visit my grandma and my mom would say, “I know this neighbourhood, this person, that neighbour.” At my own home, I don’t know most of my neighbours. So now, when thinking about getting my own place, I want that type of community because that’s what I’ m missing.
● Krauss: It takes work to build these relationships. It takes a lot of investment.
Frank: It’s a lot easier to sit inside and close your door.
● Barteski: We also got a beehive last year. We went to every neighbour and said, “Can we do this? We don’t know what it means! Can we just try it?” The bees really brought people together. At first, people were afraid and they didn’t know what it meant. But now we have a fall party and people love seeing the beehive. It’s made an impression. It’s been really great for our community. We had 50,000 bees by the end of the summer. We miss them!
● Krauss: People need a catalyst. Sometimes with us, it’s a project in a neighbourhood. Then all of a sudden, people get out and everyone starts talking about it, and then neighbours are with neighbours talking about shared interests and community values.
New foodie havens have a certain DIY quality. How important is simple, yet elegant interventions with design?
● Loeb: I love it when people choose to do rogue things. So for example, for Parking Day, a few of my colleagues and I, we just wanted to take over a loading zone and have a block party barbeque. It never happened because of so many liabilities, but I think things like that could be so much fun. It starts to engage more people. So, that’s one thing I wish was happening more in Winnipeg. The pop-up libraries in Wolseley are a good example of that — people are just doing it.
● Frank: By my parent’s house, I think on Dorchester, there’s this little box with a glass door. It says, “Take a book!” There’s like 15 books. It’s very cool.
● Krauss: Use it, enjoy it, and pass it along!
Max, you often take part in the RAW:almond restaurant on the frozen river at The Forks. How important are these pop-up events for emerging chefs? How does design make or break these types of initiatives?
● Frank: I think it was great for my development. It’s like anything. The pop-up shops are giving an avenue and a voice, an expression for people who wouldn’t normally have it. Especially this year at RAW:almond, it was focused on chefs in the city.
● Krauss: Pop-up events, they sound spontaneous. But you know, there’s a lot of planning behind it. It’s a lot like when we do open houses and public events, there’s a real certain level of planning that we do, but then there comes a point when you can’t overthink it. Because you know what? It’s going to evolve and naturally take on a new life form. It’s going to be the people who are there that night, the conversations, the voices in the room, it’s going to take its own course. I think that’s what it teaches us. It teaches us to be nimble, to adapt on the fly, to be super resilient. These are all attributes, good characteristics to have.
● Frank: Hiccups can happen. They become part of the end product. We got better at our pop-up dining events, setting ourselves up in a way that whatever happens, we’re ready.
Favourite food experience — what does that look like, feel like?
● Frank: When I travel, I go to eat food. That’s what I do. I’ve tried some amazing restaurants. There’s been a couple that really stood out because of the setting. This one little taco bar when I visited my parents in Mexico, you had to walk up past the beach into the actual town. It was on a dried up riverbed that was used as a road, and on the side there it was — this little taco stand. They sold the most amazing, flavourful beef I’ve ever had in my life, made right in front of you. The father and his kids served us. Another example was, during a canoe trip when I was 15, we were right at the end of the summer, and then one of the supervisors dropped off fresh steaks for us. After four weeks in the woods, we got to grill up these steaks over the open fire. It’s things like that. Doesn’t always have to be the most expensive experience.
● Krauss: I wrote my name on a silent auction prize at the Winnipeg Folk Festival gala. It was a steal of a deal. I got this wonderful parka with a ceinture fléchée, two passes for the full week of the Festival du Voyageur, and 10 pounds of pickerel cheeks. It was so good! 10 pounds of pickerel cheeks goes a long way so I shared them with so many friends. I got to try them prepared in so many different ways. I’ve re-stocked my freezer again!
● Loeb: I feel like more people are talking about eating local and how local ingredients taste better because they are more flavourful and fresh.
● Krauss: I have another favourite food experience! For a friend’s birthday, we did a “Lord of the Rings” food tour. We went to all of the best kielbasa meat markets in the north end of the city. We had to grade it on the overall experience: walking up to the counter, who was serving you, all these sorts of things. Then we brought them all home, tried them and taste-tested them. with icy cold shots of vodka. It was so good. We ended up doing this or a whole group of people that were coming in, for my partner’s teaching conference — people across Canada loved it. It’s such a great way to explore a neighbourhood.
Want to duet with us? Email HTFC Planning & Design at email@example.com.