It was supposed to be a challenge, of course. Opening a new restaurant is never easy. But doing so in the midst of a global pandemic has, on many levels, heightened the obstacles for the team at Banff's newest dining establishment, Farm & Fire.
Instead of backing down, they're pushing forward with a new-found vigour and a pivot to allow for social distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols and to welcome people in a new way.
Located in the heart of Banff in a spacious and completely redesigned space at the Elk + Avenue Hotel, Farm & Fire is centered around simple, fresh food and friendship. The decor is bright and relaxing. There's a stunning rotisserie oven imported from France and a wood-fired oven nestled in the corner for making flatbreads. There's meat from the grill and vegetables from Alberta farms. The concept for Farm & Fire, which was originally scheduled to open on April 17, was always going to be about heart and connection. And that matters even more now.
In the months since the COVID-19 crisis hit, and after a tumultous societal shift in just about every way, Farm & Fire has a new launch date set for June 4.
"So much has changed," says Colette-Jane Marshall, Manager of Food and Beverage at Farm & Fire. She's been working in hospitality for 12 years in big cities like Sydney, Australia and in other restaurants here in Banff and was brought in earlier this spring to guide the big launch of Farm & Fire. That experience is proving essential right now. "It's always challenging to open a restaurant. To do it right now is really challenging."
She says the first order of business for the team—which includes Executive Chef Scott Hergott and Head Chef David Ryc—has been to apply new standards for safety and cleanliness. Restaurants have always been held to high standards due to health and safety regulations, but now the entire restaurant ('back of house' as well as front) will be at the same level. As part of Pursuit's Safety Promise program, Farm & Fire will be doing things that would never have been imaginable in a restaurant of this caliber, Marshall says.
"Tables would, of course, normally have been set before the guest arrives. With COVID, we'll be leaving them completely bare. We'll bring over the clean, sanitized table setting once the guest is there. We want people to be confident that none of it has been touched before hand," she says.
And while it's always been de rigeur for tables to be wiped between settings, that would normally be done in a refined and dignified way with a fine cloth only. Discretion was key. Now, it's important to make these measures visible.
"We'll be taking sanitizer directly to the table. We want people to see what we're doing," she says.
Farm & Fire is fortunate to be in a spacious room with wide windows and a small patio. The team can easily fit 50 percent capacity and maintain two metres between tables, Marshall says. They've pulled out tables and shifted the floor plan. That part is good to go.
Menus will now be printed for one guest use only instead of menu binders. Then, they'll be recycled. All single-use items, Marshall says, have to be compostable or recyclable if we're all going to continue to work towards a sustainable planet.
"We've made sure we're sourcing, using and offering the right products," she says.
The Farm & Fire menu, designed by Chef Scott Hergott, has always had a strong focus on takeout. He says people are looking for delicious and locally-inspired food to eat at a picnic spot in Banff, in their hotel suite or with friends on a deck somewhere. The wood-fired flatbreads make for a simple lunch on a hike and the full rotisserie chicken combo meal will feed a small crowd of adventurers at a picnic table overlooking Cascade Mountain.
But now, in a time of social distancing, more and more people will want to spend their meal times outdoors. Locals are more interested in takeout than ever before. So Marshall and Hergott both expect that to be a key foundational shift when Farm & Fire opens.
No restaurant exists in isolation, even now. The Farm & Fire team's connections and relationships with suppliers, from produce to tableware, have been key. Marshall says so many of them are also struggling with limited resources, scaled-back teams, transportation and logistic complications and supply-chain issues. It's an industry-wide concern and the delay in opening has left some time for the team to catch up.
But now that it's finally so close to opening, the team at Farm & Fire are keen to get back at it.
"Those of us who work in hospitality, it's really a way of life," Marshall says. "We're social people. We're used to socializing all the time. We can't wait to get back to doing what we love."
For more information on Pursuit's Safety Promise and how it's being applied to restaurants, please visit here.
"Those of us who work in hospitality, it's really a way of life," Marshall says. "We can't wait to get back to doing what we love."