River Cafe is nestled in Prince’s Island Park and has been a fixture in Calgary since 1991. This was the year when the River Cafe first opened in the park’s vacant concession space as an open-air restaurant to serve customers in the summer months. In 1995, the owners of the River Cafe decided to give the restaurant a dramatic overhaul, and the once-rustic concession was turned into romantic dining space that is now open most of the year.
Patrons love coming to the River for many reasons; to enjoy brunch while sunning themselves on the beautiful terrace, to grab an artisan picnic basket in the summer complete with Okanagan fruit, wild salmon and a wonderful selection of cheeses, and to enjoy dinner seated close to the fieldstone fireplace with a nice glass of wine on a cool night.
Sadly, the River Cafe was one of the harder hit businesses in downtown Calgary during the flood this summer. The restaurant was closed for almost two months while all the damages from the flood were repaired. We asked the River Cafe to share their experience dealing with the flood and what’s new on the menu since they’ve re-opened their doors…
How did the flood impact the Cafe this summer?
Apart from the disruption in operations (we were closed 52 days), we lost over half of our wine inventory, which included some very old vintages of Burgundy and Bordeaux, all of our pantry, charcuterie, and food, all of the mechanical equipment in the kitchen, and our refrigeration. Beyond that, we lost several employees, many of whom secured summer employment with us as part of their culinary internship program with SAIT. However, on a more positive note, the flood and after-effects of the flood really brought to light the enormous sense of community that surrounds us because of the work we do at the restaurant every day. Suppliers, farmers, producers, neighbours, guests, employees, alumni employees and the culinary business in general overwhelmed us with their outpouring of support and offers of help. The messages we received daily from guests across the country and the world were truly heartwarming. We realized that River Cafe has provided special moments for so many people. It was really meaningful.
What was the biggest challenge getting started again?
Physically, there was an enormous coordination of repairs and installation of equipment. The entire basement was six feet under water and had to be completely gutted. The biggest challenge in re-opening was not knowing when we would be able to so. We had plenty of people ready and willing to help us in any way, but most equipment we had to order/replace took 6 to 8 weeks to receive. We also had many unforeseen challenges with utility infrastructure that set back our progression.
Are there quite a few new changes to the menu since you’ve re-opened?
We re-opened with a brand new menu and the dishes are much lighter in style mainly due to the seasonality of the ingredients we source locally (this is typical during the summer). When the basement flooded, we lost everything in our pantry, which included all of our house-made preserves, pickles, and house-cured charcuterie that was used on the menu’s fish and game board.
Were there any changes made to the interior of the restaurant?
All of the beautiful parts of River Cafe that our guests know and recognize were untouched by the floodwater. This includes the main floor, patio, and edible garden. We were very fortunate. It was our basement that suffered all of the damage, and because of that, we have a brand new (larger!) wine cellar, pantry/cold storage, and walk-in refrigeration.
Are there any special new ingredients on the menu this fall?
We always look forward to the fall harvest with great anticipation. It is the best time of year for local and seasonal ingredients! This fall, watch for local squash, pheasant and fowl, wild boar, foraged mushrooms, along with Okanagan melons and apples.
Are there any new drinks on the cocktail list that you would recommend?
We are currently serving a delicious cocktail called The River Currant that includes: Kayben Farm Black Currant Syrup, Cointreau, Cinzano Rosso, and Fresh Lemon.
What kind of ambiance does the River Cafe try to create for its customers?
A unique seasonal and regional “taste of place” with gracious hospitality. River Cafe is an extraordinary dining experience in a beautiful setting.
The River is located at 25 Prince’s Island Park.