Unique restaurants, specialty food shops turn Vanier into a destination for foodies

Beechwood Avenue, Montreal Road and McArthur Avenue each offer unique flavours

Where in Ottawa can chefs find a full-sized octopus, the perfect cut of locally sourced meat, authentic Mexican food and dozens of other dishes and ingredients from around the world?

The answer is simple – come to Vanier.

“I get a kick out of being able to have the products for everyone.” – Filipe Correia, Mario’s Food Centre

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“Whether it’s Norwegian Cod, Portuguese sausage, pastries, olive oil – I try to have everything that someone might be looking for,” Filipe Correia says about his store, Mario’s Food Centre, located at 381 McArthur Ave. 

Mario’s Food Centre opened its doors in 1964. While many things along McArthur may have changed over the years, Correia says one thing remains the same: The selection of food carried in his store. 

The shop sells Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish food and attracts customers from across Ottawa and as far away as Montreal, Correia says. Once, he even received a call from a woman overseas who was about to fly into Ottawa and wanted to stop by the shop for groceries. 

“She wanted to make sure I had what she was looking for,” he says. “People come from all over and I get a kick out of being able to have the products for everyone.”

Mario’s Food Centre isn’t the only unique stop along McArthur – the street is peppered with businesses offering delicious options. 

One is a personal favourite of Correia’s – YKO BBQ Chicken, located a few doors down from his own store. Correia admits he eats there more than a few times a week. 

McArthur Avenue is a bit of an international food quarter of Vanier, he says. 

From Indian cuisine, Greek food, pizza, ice cream, Middle Eastern products and the All Africa Market – a trip down McArthur Avenue gives visitors a chance to taste food and ingredients from around the world.

“We all complement each other,” Correia says. 

 

MONTREAL ROAD AND BEECHWOOD AVENUE

However delectable the wares offered by McArthur Avenue’s merchants might be, Correia notes that there are many other mouthwatering temptations in other corners of Vanier. 

Mainstay dishes on Montreal Road include pho, pizza, shawarma, smoked meat and authentic Mexican food.

But the experiences are not limited to simply tasting the neighbourhood’s delicious food. There is also an opportunity to learn how to make it yourself. 

Macaroon shop Quelque Chose Pâtisserie hosts French macaroon classes at its flagship shop at 274 Montreal Rd., offering aspiring bakers the chance to learn from the pros.

Meanwhile, Andrew Muckleston – the proprietor of Beechwood Avenue butcher Muckleston and Brockwell – says he offers classes at his shop to help people learn more about what they are eating, where it comes from and hopefully gain a new respect for butchery. 

The hands-on experience helps individuals learn about the cuts and how the meat can be used.  

“It’s a great experience for all skill levels,” Muckleston says.

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Muckleston’s shop sources its meat from small-scale, local producers. Understanding the origins of his products helps him easily answer his customers’ questions.

“People want to know more about what they’re eating and where it came from,” he says. “That the food you are eating is top quality, ethically sourced, local, hormone and antibiotic free – something that you really can’t put a price tag on.”

 

People of Vanier: The Beechwood Avenue baristas of The Ministry of Coffee

From left, barista Jon Legacy, The Ministry of Coffee manager Julia Norris and barista Heather Swan show off a perfected coffee design at the coffee shop, 18 Beechwood Ave.

Manager Julia Norris and her staff share their favourite requests from customers and why they love working on Beechwood Avenue.  

Meghan Laver, on her most unique order:

“Our clientele varies greatly, so there’s always something interesting happening here – someone once asked me for a “deconstructed latte” so they could build it at their table themselves.”

 

Anastasiya Gorodnicha, on four-legged customers:

“The community here is so welcoming and nice, but the dogs here are the best! They always have smiling faces and are eager to be out and about. I’m so happy to see them walking around happily with their owners.”

 

Joanie Rheaume-Bond, on Vanier’s unique feel:

“This neighbourhood is just like a small town. Everybody knows each other and there is truly a sense of community and it is nice to be part of that and to be part of people’s routine … The Beechwood clientele is nice and eclectic, which makes it fun!”

 

Julia Norris, on what makes working in Vanier special:

“I got into the coffee business through a friend of my sister’s. I worked at that shop for about two years and fell in love with the culture around coffee shops. The best part of working on Beechwood is the customers. There is such a diverse range of people who come into the shop and it’s always nice to get to know them.”












Family-fun planned for annual fall festival

BeechFest – a new year, a new name for Beechwood’s annual fall festival

Beechwood Avenue’s annual fall festival is getting a bit of a revamp this year. 

The street festival plans to switch out its old name, East Feast, for a new one – BeechFest. 

The name tweak highlights a change in programming. 

What was once a food-heavy festival – hence it’s feast-filled name – the festival will be adopting more of a family feel and offering more family-friendly activities and times. 

The festival will take place along Beechwood Avenue on Sept. 7, 2019 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King said the change is largely based on the varied interests of the communities which call Beechwood Avenue their main street. 

“The name change represents the continued renewal of the event and responsiveness of the community to the fact that the event programming goes way beyond the excellent culinary scene on Beechwood, to also represent arts and culture and sport,” King said. 

The event is organized by the Quartier Vanier BIA, of which King is the newest member of the BIA’s board, having been recently elected in the Rideau-Rockcliffe byelection on this past spring. 

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An active community member before taking his seat on council, the new councillor said he has loved attending the festival over the years and is looking forward to it once again this year, but this time as a contributor.  

“’I’ve attended BeechFest in the past and found it to be quite an exciting event.  It is arguably one of the largest outdoor festivals in our area, with 3,000 people in attendance, that allows residents and visitors from outside the city check out local businesses, chefs, breweries, wineries, children’s organizations and community groups,” he said. 

Councillor Mathieu Fleury adds: “As a supporter of the event since its inception, I really feel that it’s a family friendly event that is very must-see for our neighbourhood.  The event celebrates the end of the summer with food, music, activities and performances. What a great way to come together and celebrate?”

Executive director of the BIA, Nathalie Carrier said the changes this year are all aimed at making the event bigger and better. 

“What we realized is this is a family gathering and so we want to make sure the family focus is not lost,” she said. 

And given that Vanier is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Carrier said it is important to make this year memorable. 

So far, programming for the festival includes:

  • More children’s programming
  • More food and more varieties of it!
  • Celebration of Vanier’s 50th anniversary
  • More merchant participation
  • More people and more fun!

The event, created in 2016, closes off Beechwood Avenue from Marier Avenue to St. Charles Street to vehicular traffic, turning the area into a pedestrian space. In the past, local restaurants and shops along Beechwood Avenue participated by selling food, promoting their business, performing on the main stage or offering activities. 

King said he feels street festivals, like Beechfest, are important because they allow residents to express community pride and demonstrate what makes their neighbourhood’s special.

Carrier said it is this sentiment that the BIA hopes to gain interest from more community partners to participate or sponsor an activity at the event. 

“One of the great benefits of the festival is the strong relationships it fosters in the community,” King said. “Beechfest forges bonds among service organizations, municipal government, and neighborhood groups and creates better connections with elected officials, volunteers and interested residents.”

BIA members, organizations or individuals who are looking to participate or support BeechFest can contact Carrier at ncarrier@vanierbia.com. 



Vanier BIA, community partners roll out new crime-prevention tools

Property audits among measures available to merchants

The Vanier BIA is arming its merchants with the tools they need to become leaders in crime prevention this summer.

The BIA recently met with the area’s community police officer, Crime Prevention Vanier, the Vanier Community Association and local merchants in a proactive approach to reducing crime in the district.

“The BIA and its merchants understand the important role we play in crime prevention,” said Nathalie Carrier, the executive director of the Vanier BIA. “Our approach is to get our merchants the tools they need to contribute to crime prevention,” she added.

The BIA will be offering monthly tips and advice for merchants looking for guidance or new ideas in how to make their business – and wider community – safer.

“We all understand that a safer neighbourhood is not only good for its people, but also for its businesses,”

Nathalie Carrier, Vanier BIA executive director
Lighting up a dark parking lot is just one of the steps a business can make to help prevent crime. Look for a list of tips and tricks from the Vanier BIA in the upcoming newsletter.

This work builds on several existing projects and partnerships, including those with the area’s community police officer, Cst. Vianney Calixte, to conduct audits under a program known as “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.”

These audits help identify physical and design changes that can help reduce crime, such as cutting back overgrown shrubs, improving parking lot lighting and creating better sightlines around a property.

“We all understand that a safer neighbourhood is not only good for its people, but also for its businesses,” Carrier said.

WORKING TOGETHER

Simply adding lighting is one of the most common suggestions made by Lucie Marleau, the founder of Crime Prevention Vanier. A well-lit parking lot is far less likely to attract undesirable activity than one shrouded in darkness, she said.

Marleau has worked to improve safety in the community for more than a decade and created Crime Prevention Vanier to complement the work undertaken by Crime Prevention Ottawa.

“Experience has taught us that our crime prevention efforts can only be effective and sustainable if every actor plays their part,” Marleau said, explaining that it takes more than just police officers and city officials to make an area safe.

“No crime happens in a vacuum, and each crime touches all of us living (and) working in Vanier in tangible and less tangible ways,” Marleau said.

This team-based approach is also embraced by the Vanier Community Association, which supports the BIA’s efforts to share crime-prevention tools with merchants.

“Business are an important part of our community, and our residents are part of their clientele,” said Lauren Touchant, president of the community association. “We are deeply interrelated therefore, we all have a responsibility to keep our neighbourhood safe and we hope these tips and tricks will better equip business owners.”

Keep an eye out for the latest crime prevention tips and tricks in the BIA’s monthly e-newsletter. Businesses can also visit CrimePreventionOttawa.ca or ensemblepourvanier.com for a full list of crime prevention tools.

Eco Equitable harnesses ‘the potential of business to be a force for good’

Anouk Bertner says she has always wanted to use the tools of business to accomplish a social good.

Anouk, who studied business at Concordia University, has worked for more than 10 years with social enterprises and non-profit organizations. After earning her MBA, she saw her colleagues going off into finance or management – but she saw herself taking a different path.

“I’ve always seen the potential of business to be a force for good,” says Anouk, who is close to marking her fifth year as Eco Equitable’s executive director.

Eco Equitable teaches everything from the basics of sewing to more advanced classes. Photo by Ted Simpson

The social enterprise began in 2002 with a French Catholic nun named Lucille Champagne who worked with refugees and new Canadians to begin a program that not only built people’s sewing skills, but also their social skills, helping with integration into the community.

“She saw that when people were getting together to sew, and they were working side-by-side, and they were supporting each other, then that’s really when community happened and when integration was possible,” says Anouk.

Instead of a formal course, “it was much more about getting people comfortable, getting their language skills up, creating community,” she says. “All those things that are really obvious, but are actually quite hard to put in practice.”

Now, Eco Equitable is one of 18 social enterprises and non-profits in McArthur Avenue’s Heartwood House. It offers a range of sewing courses, from beginner’s classes to pattern-making. These sewing courses are a main revenue source to support the social programming.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler, and managed to repurpose 10,175 pounds of fabric in 2017. The textiles come from a variety of places, including individual’s homes, the National Capital Commission’s flags and the G7 summit.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler. Photo by Ted Simpson

The core of Eco Equitable is its social programming, or sewing for jobs. They work with many immigrant and refugee women in the area, helping them get their skills up for the job market while also providing them with income for their work.

Much of the work cycles back to the community – for example, Eco Equitable makes a lot of conference bags, including bags for the G7 summit that incorporated fabric from recycled Canada 150 flags.

Anouk says Eco Equitable is getting more recognition in the wider Ottawa community – recently, it received the Community Builder of the Year award from United Way Ottawa in the category “From Poverty to Possibility.”

“There’s a lot of values-based organizations that are interested in creating products that have a story to them,” she says. “People are getting sick of mass-processed, mass-made, questionable-origin products.”

That, plus the knowledge that Eco Equitable is helping newcomers get established, makes people and businesses feel good about supporting the enterprise, she says.

Being in Vanier, where many newcomers land when they first arrive, makes sense for Eco Equitable, she says.

“I think Vanier is one of the only neighbourhoods in Ottawa that has real personality,” says Anouk, adding that its location within Heartwood House makes its community impact stronger.

“The great thing about all being co-located in a space where we all do similar work is that we can help each other,” she says. “It’s convenient and supportive.”

Eco Equitable is located in Hartwood House on McArthur Avenue, with many other social enterprises and organizations. Photo by Ted Simpson

Vanier celebrates neighbourhood with end-of-summer East Feast

Vanier residents and visitors came together in early September to celebrate the vibrant neighbourhood and mark the unofficial end of summer.

To help say so long to the season of hot, sticky nights – and embrace the coming autumn season – the Vanier BIA held its “East Feast” evening with food, music and street theatre.

As DJs spun old-school funk and party beats, attendees dined on food from local eateries including Muckleston & Brockwell, Bridgehead, Sundae School, Ola Cocina, Meatings, Rico Peru and Beechwood Farmers Market vendors.

Elsewhere, Sutherland’s Restaurant, ClockTower Brew Pub and Royal Oak added to the festive atmosphere by extending the event to within their respective venues.

Outside, Montreal street theatre troupe Labokracboom delighted children and adults alike with their 16-foot giant marionette. An interactive sound installation engaged visitors as they explored music inside a giant glowing dome, while Windows Collective’s interactive experimental projections transformed the exterior of Red Door Provisions. And, as the sun set, Shift Yoga led dozens of participants in an evening yoga session.

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Secret Dinner expands to Montreal Road in Vanier

Vanessa Fidelis had lived in Ottawa for almost 15 years. An avid traveler and curious person, she was beginning to feel like she was in a rut.

But in the fall of 2017, something sparked an idea in her mind – a communal dinner, hosted at an unconventional location, featuring a menu by a local chef. Everything except for the mysterious theme would be left unknown until the last-minute reveal.

The first secret dinner was held in December 2017, outdoors in La Peche -17-degree weather. Nineteen people sat at a long table in a location that had been revealed to them only upon arrival, discovering a menu none of them had seen before.

Vanessa and her fiance, Zach, had brought their friends to that table hoping the experience would spark new friendships and a renewed curiosity for what Ottawa has to offer. The idea worked.

“We just kind of ran with it,” says Vanessa, who has years of event management experience already. Now, every corner of Ottawa is a possible location for the next secret dinner.

“We’ll do no theme twice, and no location twice,” she says. The pair push the chefs they partner with to think out of the box, giving them the creative reins and letting the themes guide the finished product.

Past themes have included Smoke and Shine, which was held at a Christmas tree farm in June, and The Poets, held in July at Vanier’s Beechwood Cemetery.

Several dinners later, the pair are preparing to move the Secret Dinner operations from their home into an office at the heart of Vanier on Montreal Road.

Why Vanier? Vanessa says the dinner at Beechwood Cemetery opened her up to the community and made her feel like it was the right place to be.

She says the Beechwood Cemetery is one of the best-kept secrets in Ottawa, even for locals.

“I had no idea that this cemetery was what it was,” she says. The national cemetery is the final resting place of more than 5,000 soldiers and includes a “poets’ corner” of well-known writers that inspired the theme for the dinner. It also has one of the last unobstructed views of Parliament in the city.

For the dinner, they kept things even more local than usual. Chef Warren Sutherland of Beechwood Avenue’s Sutherland Restaurant was responsible for the Jamaican-inspired menu. Local social enterprise Eco Equitable made the napkins from recycled materials, Queen B’s supplied peanut-free macaroons, Harvest Honey brought honeycomb to the menu, and more – all Vanier businesses and people, who Vanessa says were eager to bring their energy and work to the event.

That welcoming enthusiasm is what convinced her and Zach to move in when the opportunity arose, with the hopes of building on the connections they made and growing Secret Dinner’s reach.

“What’s good for Vanier is good for Ottawa,” says Vanessa. “Everywhere you look in Ottawa, people are willing to help, and people are willing to get on board … Every single day I am surprised and I am shocked at how cool this city can be.”

Secret Dinner is now offering private events as well, which Vanessa hopes will make it a more sustainable venture.

“We know what we have ahead of us, and we know what we’ve done in the past, and I think we have all the information we need to execute some really amazing dinners,” she says.

Vanessa says she hopes the secret dinners help open participants’ eyes to all the interesting things happening in Ottawa that often get overlooked.

“There are these crazy, cool little places in Ottawa … and I think Vanier is really jumping on that bandwagon,” says Vanessa. “There’s so much here. Why don’t we showcase it?”

Meet your merchants: Fine art and great stories

When Abed Younes decided he was too young to retire and looked to start up his next new business, he found himself drawn to Vanier.

It’s fair to say he considered his options. Palestinian by birth, Abed lived for years in Germany, working with the Red Cross to help countless refugees and immigrants from all over the world settle into new lives. When he came to Canada in 1990, he rented a car and spent five months exploring the country to better understand his new home.

Vanier has changed a lot through the years and people have a very different concept of the community now. There are more kids around, more families.

He then decided his best way to put down roots was to start his own business. Over the past 25 years, Abed has built up and sold several local businesses, all in some way art-related, including Picture Plus. Roughly three years ago, he started up his latest venture, a custom framing and fine art prints shop on Beechwood Avenue called Art House Custom Framing.

“People ask me why I work with art,” Abed said. “Art is the only way to run away without leaving your home.”

It hasn’t taken him long to build up a strong customer base from among local residents and even nearby embassies with hard work, a focus on quality and word of mouth. Social work is still in his blood and his shop has become a local favourite for regulars who often drop by just to chat.

“This is such an amazing area,” Abed said. “Beechwood is booming.”

Modbox to revitalize St. Charles Church into community hub

St. Charles Church in Vanier was a community focal point for more than a century before declining attendance forced it to hold its final service in 2010.

In 2014, the deconsecrated Beechwood Avenue building was sold to Modbox, a company combining architecture firm Linebox with building and project management firm Lake Partnership that has little interest in ordinary condo projects.

“This is more than a building or a development,” said Modbox CEO Darryl Squires. “It is a chance to do something unique and special.”

The plans for St. Charles Market include a collection of horizontal homes and townhomes wrapping around the original church structure. At its heart, the historic bell tower will serve once again as a welcoming beacon to the Ottawa community.

Construction is officially underway at the site to set the foundation for the new building. The restoration of the church itself was completed in the fall of 2017, and the former rectory behind the church was removed in July 2018.

The repurposed church will be transformed into a restaurant and a local marketplace, while the original grounds will once again serve its neighbours with seasonal attractions and community events.

It’s one of many recent business investments in Vanier, an area offering untapped opportunities for developers as well as cafés, stores, art studios and startups.

“Vanier has an enormous amount of potential,” says Mr. Squires.