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Restaurant experts say big-chain closures in Edmonton not surprising as consumers push local

WATCH: In the Edmonton restaurant scene, there's been some well-known chains disappearing, including the most recent announcement from Red Robin that it will be closing its Alberta stores. Vinesh Pratap goes looking for answers on what it could mean for the industry.

This week’s announcement that burger chain Red Robin will be pulling out of Alberta has fans of the franchise reeling, but local restaurant experts say it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“With the economy being the way it is, things are definitely slower,” said Mary Bailey, editor of The Tomato Food & Drink magazine.

“I don’t think Alberta is the same place it was a decade ago.”

READ MORE: Red Robin burger chain to close all Alberta locations by end of year

Red Robin cited reassessing its real estate portfolio as an explanation for the closures of its five Alberta locations.

This isn’t the first major chain to pull out of the province. Chili’s closed nine restaurants in Alberta in 2017, leaving only the airport locations in Edmonton and Calgary, and a single standalone storefront in Banff.

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READ MORE: Chili’s Grill and Bar closing most of its Alberta locations

Starbucks also recently shuttered a handful of stores in Edmonton, but experts said that decision was likely more of a tactical maneuver to increase profit — not an issue with the city as a whole.

Several Tony Roma’s in the city also closed down earlier this month. Requests for comment from that company from Global News went unanswered.

Experts say it’s a combination of economy, changing preferences, and the increase of food delivery services.

“Edmontonians are getting a bit more savvy when it comes to food,” Bailey said.

“I think we’re finally sort of getting it, that an independent restaurant, supporting local people, is a fun thing to do.”

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Susan Lauder, a hospitality management instructor at NAIT, said that she believes these chains weren’t able to grasp onto consumer trends in Alberta.

“Edmonton has become a food city,” Lauder said. “Every business has a life cycle, and I think these chains went through their life cycle and they didn’t reinvent themselves.”

Lauder said that while she believes consumers are leaning towards local restaurants, upscale casual restaurants like Earls, and fast-casual restaurants like Famoso or Five Guys, there has been a movement away from middling restaurants like Chili’s and Red Robin.

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“Western Canada does upscale casual very well, and those restaurants aren’t quite at that level,” Lauder said.

Keeping it Local

Global News spoke to the owner of Coliseum Steak and Pizza, an Edmonton restaurant that has been running for 43 years, who said she credits keeping longtime staff and a consistent menu as secrets to success.

“I’ve got many long-term dedicated employees that have helped make us the success that we are,” Dimitra Scordas said.

Dimitra Scordas, owner of Coliseum Steak and Pizza, says her 43-year-old restaurant has seen success because it keeps things simple and local.
Dimitra Scordas, owner of Coliseum Steak and Pizza, says her 43-year-old restaurant has seen success because it keeps things simple and local. Global News

Scordas said she has one staff member who has worked at the restaurant for close to 40 years, with many others hitting the 30-year mark. Being such a part of the community has been a benefit to the establishment.

“We have generations and generations of customers,” Scordas said.

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READ MORE: Demand from loyal diners prompts Padmanadi to plan second restaurant for Edmonton’s south side

The increased interest in keeping things local has been a benefit to Coliseum, but the restaurant has also been building relationships in the city over its four decades of business.

“They’re authentic,” Lauder said. “I think that a place like Coliseum has built a super loyal clientele.”

“We’ve had a lot of people ask us to open other locations,” said Scordas.

“But… we’re very stuck in our ways, and we just want to stay here, hands-on, and look after this place.”