Here’s an undeniable fact: Lacombe has some of the best food in Alberta.
Undeniable fact #2: it’s tough being in the restaurant business. If you work in a kitchen, devote your mornings as a supplier or spend time crunching numbers and stats as an owner, there’s challenges lurking around every corner. This goes double for restaurants in smaller cities and towns, where it’s harder to set yourself apart and keep your customers satisfied at the same time.
Lacombe is sometimes referred to as Alberta’s smallest city, with a population of 13,057. It’s an unlikely food mecca but that’s exactly what it is. If you talked to Cilantro and Chive’s co-owner and chef Rieley Kay about it, he can tell you the big reason why, and it has to do with community.
“There is such a strong sense of community from business owners to people to everything.” He says. “There’s so much that goes on in Lacombe and so much support. Anytime there’s any concerns or anything happens, people just rally behind each other and help show the support that’s needed. They are always very grateful, going out of their way to make sure everyone is looked after. There is such a supportive community, it’s really awesome to see that.”
But first, Cilantro & Chive. They’re likely the reason you’re reading this and for good reason. Based out of Lacombe and sporting a motto of Fresh Simple, Eats – they’ve become a big part of the reason people from all parts of Alberta travel to Lacombe for lunch or dinner and they’re only just approaching their sixth year as a restaurant.
The three words Kay say encapsulate the restaurant best are creative, community and fresh. Creative sums up the restaurant’s unique approach; it’s why seeing braised duck wings, bacon double cheese burgers on top of bacon caesars, craft pop sodas and chipotle bbq glazed back ribs sharing the same menu, somehow makes sense. The Lacombe community provided a home base for the burgeoning catering service before it became the full-fledged restaurant it is today. Fresh feels like the best word to describe the spacious and lived-in decor that greets customers right from the front door. How many places are willing to routinely switch up their menu or feature a burger of the month created in collaboration with another local chef? Or work with locally sourced ingredients and keep their fridges stocked with plenty of craft beer and ciders from nearby breweries? (P.S the total number of craft beer and ciders stocked is somewhere in the 130s. Talk about a lot!)
This approach has helped Cilantro and Chive gain a reputation for doing what they want on their own terms. A Globe and Mail review proclaimed Cilantro & Chive the perfect pit stop between Calgary and Edmonton. “It is well worth the time to take the side roads and meander through the towns along the way.” The review finished, “You never know what you might find.”
Undeniable fact #3: No two days are the same for those who work in restaurants. The industry, leaves plenty of room for restaurants to grow and figure out their identities. So what’s Cilantro and Chive’s secret? According to Kay, there’s no grand design, no masterplan in play.
“As humans we always grow and evolve our own personalities and ourselves. In all honesty right now, I don’t even think I still know what I wanna do five years down the road.” He says. “It’s always an evolution. Something can come along and change that course pretty drastically. Do I know what I wanna do right now? I wanna have some fun and that’s really what it comes down to – making sure that we’re having fun here, our guests are having fun and our staff are having fun. From all walks, there’s so much fun and so many things to do and be had. One exciting thing about the restaurant industry is there’s no right or wrong answer.”
“What we want to bring in, that’s all evolution, always changing, always adapting. We’ve got 130+ craft beers and ciders. We never set out to have that many. We knew that we wanted to support the craft and support our neighbours and have some fun in that regard but we never set out to have a 130 different beers and ciders, we never set out to only carry those, no domestics, no imports. But it was just part of our evolution, part of our growing.”
But they aren’t the only ones growing. There’s a scene taking hold in Central Alberta for fans of food and drink of a more creative and less mainstream variety. Taking the time to shout out close Lacombe neighbours Sweet Capone’s, Kay also praises To The Lost in Red Deer and breweries such as Troubled Monk, Blindman Brewing and Siding 14.
So then, what defines a great restaurant?
“Themselves.” Kay says. “They should try and be themselves, not to be anything else – what they wanna do and what they wanna be.”
Last year Cilantro and Chive discovered the top nine moments on their Instagram, oddly enough, had nothing to do with food or drinks. They all revolved around the places they called their own: pictures taken around town, support and love shown to other businesses and getting that same love back. It was another reminder of the power of community and how it plays into the restaurant’s continued success and future.
“We’ve kinda come to this realization that it is all about the community that supports us and what we do and what we can do to help support them too.” Kay says. “I want to make sure we’re supporting the people who support us, the people in the breweries, the people in the farms, the ones on the school boards, school councils, the different boards of education, chamber boards. They’re the ones giving back to our community and we’re a better community with them. That’s what it really comes back to.”
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