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Calgary celebrity chef optimistic about jobs, opens new restaurant

Calgary celebrity chef optimistic about jobs as she opens new restaurant
WATCH: While the unemployment rate remains stuck in Calgary, some businesses are predicting the worst is over in Alberta.

Connie DeSousa is feeling confident about Calgary’s economic future and Calgarians’ spending habits.

The Calgary chef has been a regular on the Food Network over the years and is about to open her third restaurant in the city, called Chix Eggshop.

“After the recession a couple of years ago, there were a lot of restaurants that closed in the city, which was really unfortunate, she said.

“But now that we’ve kind of pulled through and come out of it, it’s really refreshing to see new restaurants opening up. We have a lot of new retail and food and beverage development in the East Village and we are excited for more to come.”

READ MORE: Canada saw slight job losses in June, new labour force survey shows

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The latest job numbers released on Friday show that the unemployment rate in Alberta has changed very little from last month and last year. Alberta’s rate is stalled at 6.6 per cent.

The good news is that Calgary has seen a drop in unemployment, from 7.6 per cent in April to seven per cent in June. The city gained 7,500 jobs, mainly in the energy sector. Calgary has come a long way from when it hit over 10 per cent unemployment between October and December 2016.

“I think we are pulling out of it,” DeSousa said.

“I don’t know if oil prices will ever be the same again but people are still moving on with their lives and still getting married and celebrating, and so I think that’s good for restaurants.”

DeSousa feels especially bullish on the East Village, where she now has two restaurants. She said the key to survival in Calgary’s recovering economy has been to adapt to consumers’ new preferences in eating out.

“I think restaurants are taking a new direction with what they are calling ‘fast fine dining.’ Much more casual service, which is what Chix Eggshop is going to be,” DeSousa said.

“We are counter service only, so we are eliminating a lot of the front-of-house service, which saves us a little bit on labour. It’s a much more casual experience but we’re not sacrificing the quality. We can’t fool Calgarians. They are really well travelled and educated and they know what they want — maybe just not for the same high price tag as what they would pay elsewhere.”

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READ MORE: Canadian unemployment falls to 5.4% in May — a 43-year low

Another business feeling optimistic about Calgary’s recovery is the Alt Hotel, which opened this past winter.

“The whole experience has been quite amazing. We’ve had a really good response,” said Tyler Telford, guest service supervisor at the hotel.

“In the summertime, we are quite full. Over the winter, we were busier than I thought we would be, especially opening a hotel during the winter can be sometimes a bit difficult.”

Telford said the Groupe Germain, which owns the Alt Hotel, plans to open a third hotel in Calgary’s University District. He said business in the East Village has been fuelled by tourists, corporate clients and East Village residents who need a place for visiting family to stay.

“It’s a big vision they have for the East Village and it’s coming along very nicely,” Telford said.

READ MORE: Calgary’s economic outlook fueled by rising crude prices, migration, infrastructure investments

According to the Calgary and Region Economic Outlook released in May by the city’s economics team, improvement is slowly coming to the city, with unemployment in Calgary projected to fall to 5.9 per cent by 2024.

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The national unemployment rate was 5.5 per cent in June 2019, down 0.5 per cent from the same period in 2018.