If you’ve spoken with chefs, food writers or food producers in the last few years, you’ve probably heard the ongoing speech about sustainable farming and fishing practices. I’ve preached from the same pulpit on numerous occasions, espousing the mantra that local is good, fresh is better and that if we’re not careful we’ll be in danger of eating ourselves out of a food supply.
With such a passionate focus on what happens between the farm and the kitchen, the front of the house is often overshadowed. Building restaurants often requires an intensive amount of materials and manpower to produce the perfect atmosphere for diners. We often overlook the wood, plastics, metals and leathers which create that space. These materials can also be sourced along principles of sustainability, creating a holistic environment where one can feel good about both the space itself as well as the food.
And at least one of Calgary’s new restaurants chose to use reclaimed or eco-friendly materials when creating their space, making our world a little greener as a result. In early 2011, the Cibo team took over the former Rogers Video store on 17th Avenue S.W. and began the 15-month challenge of turning a retail location into a restaurant, stripping away layers of renovations in the almost 100-year-old building.
“It was definitely a progression,” says Cibo general manager Stephen Hamelin. “Once we got back to the bare walls and bare floor we were inspired by what it could be. It just had a natural rustic appeal.”
After hiring local master craftsman Eric Sundstrom, they collaborated on design ideas utilizing as much of the pastoral red brick and old wood as possible to create a natural, relaxed environment. Using Sundstrom’s collection of refinished materials reclaimed from old buildings and other projects where he removed or replaced features, they were able to construct a unique space with fewer newly manufactured materials.
“As much as the project was rustic, we didn’t want it to look unfinished” says Hamelin. “We wanted to do it in a really classy, professional and clean way.”
The team carefully chose materials that not only created character, but also integrated pieces of Canadian history. Materials used to section off the patio are believed to have come from a hangar which housed Second World War-era Lancaster bombers. The pizza bar and columns around the restaurant are clad in faded multicolour panels from an old pool hall renovation in Fort Macleod.
The upstairs bar features redwood staves from an Okanagan wine vat, giving it the ambiance an old world bar. Even the old window frames, which were removed and replaced with modern energy-efficient pieces, were repurposed into wine racks, saving additional wastage.
The downstairs flooring, which at first glance looks like old cracked tile, is salvaged from beetle-affected lodgepole pine (the pilot project from which this wood came has the potential to save millions of kilograms of wood from being burned as unusable material). There’s even a bit of Stampede Wrestling history — parts of the upstairs hardwood floor that couldn’t be refinished were patched with bits of hardwood from the last renovation of the Hart family mansion
But, says Hamelin, “design is just one aspect of a restaurant. As much as we are excited about the environmental responsibility, we’re committed to the food and service as well.”
Nonetheless, Cibo’s practice of giving old materials new life, and thus creating an inviting space that tells a story, paints a new face on Calgary’s growing restaurant community.