Editor’s note: The Restaurants of YEG blog series reaches out to local restaurants we love to share their story by having them answer a short interview by email. Responses are shown as submitted. Get in touch with us if you know of a restaurant we should feature!
Holland Plaza is one of those odd Edmonton centres that’s centrally located but slightly off the beaten track, sandwiched somewhere in the middle between residences, 124th street and Kingsway Mall. It’s home to a mixed blend of businesses, from a float studio and a doughnut shop to a wine gallery and a Barre fitness gym. And amidst all that is Cafe Linnea, the restaurant sequel to Edmonton’s beloved Duchess Bakery (and also home to Duchess Atelier, where one can attempt to learn French pastry themselves).
Walking into Cafe Linnea is like stumbling into Scandinavia. It looks and feels European (they even have high tea on Sundays) and is bright, warm and welcoming, adorned with plants and fresh bits of green throughout to bring life into the space. Combined with a delicious, innovative menu that changes with the season, and you have a perfect first feature for The Local Good’s new Restaurants of YEG blog series. We interviewed chef and owner Kelsey Johnson last summer to find out more about her and her restaurant.
What’s your name and how long have you lived in Edmonton?
My name is Kelsey Johnson and I was born in Edmonton, raised on Pigeon Lake just an hour outside of the city, and moved back to Edmonton in 2010.
What’s one of the biggest struggles you’ve had to deal with as a local restauranteur?
I think Edmonton’s food scene is slowly developing from large corporations to smaller, independent, family run operations, and that’s a hard change to make. You have to be willing to stick it out and stand behind your food and your choices every day and some people are excited about this idea, and some are not. Staying true to why you originally started the whole thing, be it using local sustainable suppliers, or demanding that everything that can be made in house, is made in house, is a hard road to take but, ultimately, very worth it.
What’s your commitment around local and organic food?
Our policy is that whatever we can get local, we will always use and the menu constantly changes as our farmers and suppliers have new ingredients. We have farmers raising animals specifically for us and growing the produce we love to use. We have about 20 suppliers or so as well as a small plot of land where we do some of our own vegetables as well.
Is there anything you do to be a greener restaurant?
We save all of our compost that we make and take it out to our plot of land to amend the soil we are using. We are also very conscious of using our trims, peelings, bones, fat, by-product like whey, as much as possible. If we are peeling a tomato for a dish, we save the skins and dehydrate them to make an intense tomato powder. If we have extra beef fat rendered, we will dip our large cuts of meat in it to help with the dry aging process. We also order in whole or half animals and make use of every cut to reduce the wastage that happens when you pick and choose your cuts of meat.
Where do you eat out when you go out? What are your top three places for food and drinks in town?
Any of Daniel Costa’s places any day of the week for me! I also have been living off of Pho Hoan Pasteur for the last year or so and if I can make time, I like going to Rge Rd for the big bottle, small plates night. There’s many more, but those are my usual haunts. Clementine, if drinks are involved!
Where do you see your restaurant in the next three years?
I hope that we will have fallen into a nice, steady rhythm for both the dinner and brunch services where I can split my time between the farm and the restaurant. I really believe that you can’t make good food without well loved ingredients so learning more about that process and then being able to share that with our customers is so important to me. I’m not looking to break down any walls, I just want to contribute in a positive way to the food scene here and become a place people love coming to.
What’s your take on the Edmonton local food and independent restaurant scene?
I am so excited about the changes that have been happening, even since I moved here. I love that there are so many young entrepreneurs that are willing to put it all on the line for what we love and the amount of respect I think the community has for one another is almost unlike anywhere else. Everyone seems to be wanting everyone else to succeed and I think we all understand that a strong food community benefits everyone.
What’s one thing that the City of Edmonton could do to support establishments like yours?
The development and building stage for us was a very long, drawn out procedure and I think lots of places can go under before they start. Waiting on permits and inspections can be really difficult, especially if you are already paying rent during that waiting period. Crawling out from under that built up debt while operating on the extremely thin margins restaurants already run on, sometimes becomes insurmountable. Expediting that process would help any new business tremendously.